"Listen, nobody calls me back. I have this painting. Who do I need to talk to?" Those were the words spoken by a New York City nurse who recently discovered she was in possession of one of the long-missing panels from Jacob Lawrence's 30-panel series "Struggle: From the History of the American People." The nurse, who spoke anonymously to the New York Times, says she read about how one of the five missing panels had recently been found in an apartment not far from hers, and it spurred her to look more closely at one of her own small paintings. She found a 1996 profile on Lawrence, one of the few Black artists to be widely recognized in the art world in the 1940s and '50s, taped to the back of the panel, which her mother-in-law had given her. It turned out to be Panel 28, "Immigrants admitted from all countries: 1820 to 1840—115,773."
Her son quickly matched it up to a black-and-white photograph of the painting, which was hanging as a placeholder in the city's Metropolitan Museum of Art, where the rest of the series (minus the still-missing panels) was on display. After calling the Met a few times, to no avail, the nurse and her son simply went over to the museum and talked to "a young kid at the information desk in the lobby," she says. Of the painting, she notes, "I didn’t know I had a masterpiece. ... I passed by it on my way to the kitchen a thousand times a day." Curators authenticated the piece, ArtNews reports, and ArtNet notes some conservation work was also done. The panel, which has not been seen in public since 1960, will debut at the final two stops of the traveling Lawrence exhibition, starting Friday at the Seattle Art Museum. Three panels (14, 20, and 29) remain missing, and organizers of the show are still hoping to find them. (Read more Metropolitan Museum of Art stories.)