Coffee for Two and Two for Coffee is a still life of a traditional coffee set where Aiken focuses on a light source and how it reflects off the items in the arrangement. He uses white highlights on the areas of the cups and other instruments that are receiving the most light.
Unfortunately, not much is known about James S. Aiken or his paintings. However, there is a documented letter written by a former acquaintance of Aiken's that provides some insight into his life. Addressed to National Museum of African Art Assistant Registrar in 1985, Elton C. Fax writes that he was fairly close to James S. Aiken for an approximate ten-year span between the late 1930s and late 1940s. Vague in memory, as he was 76 years of age when he wrote the letter, Fax recalls Aiken attending two WPA (Works Progress Administration) Life Drawing classes at the Harlem Art Center during their friendship. Mr. Fax does not remember ever meeting any of Aiken's family, but believes he migrated from somewhere below Maryland and along the Eastern seaboard. According to Fax, Aiken was steadily employed as a union housepainter and always well groomed. The last time Fax actually saw Aiken was between 1949 and 1952. Fax was driving by on his way to Yonkers and saw Aiken seated along the Hudson River painting. Most of Aiken's works include his signature and title in the lower left corner often hinting to his location at the time he created the work. Most of the titles indicate that James S. Aiken traveled extensively throughout New York State to capture various outdoor sites and landmarks.
James Aiken Collection, Anacostia Community Museum, Smithsonian Institution, transferred from the National Museum of African Art, Smithsonian Institution.