Home Travel Shop Learn Calendar Contact Us About Us



Celebrate Black History Month

African-American artists have made important contributions throughout the development of American art history. February is "Black History Month," which is a special time dedicated to honoring these contributions. By focusing on the lives and subject matter of African-American artists in your curriculum, you can explore important topics in a manner inspirational to all students.

The lives of African-American artists tell the story of America itself. Sculptor Edmonia Lewis, a daughter of a Chippewa mother and an African-American father, faced many challenges in pursuit of her art. As a woman of mixed race, she knew two struggles: racial prejudice and sexism. She eventually created a moderately successful career in Europe, where she sculpted portraits and many themes that were allegories of her own life. Egyptian heroines Cleopatra and Hagar (of Biblical times) and Native Americans from literature were sculptural topics she explored.

African-American history was an important theme to another Black artist, Jacob Lawrence. Through a series of paintings, Lawrence recounted the major events of the lives of prominent African-Americans such as Frederick Douglass, Harriet Tubman, John Brown, and Haitian revolutionary Toussaint L'Ouverture. The titles of his paintings reflect Lawrence's interest in his heritage: The Migration of the Negro, Harlem, The South, and Struggle & History of the American People. Examination of his works gives students a unique understanding of one artist's expression and commitment to the memory of his ancestors.

Other artists who worked with themes of African-American life were William H. Johnson, Romare Bearden, and Clementine Hunter. Johnson, although born in South Carolina, spent most of his adult life in Europe. Upon returning to the United States after the death of his Danish wife, Johnson began exploring subjects relating to African-American history such as the lives of Booker T. Washington and John Brown. His viewpoint was of the prodigal son, returning to a heritage he had not previously expressed in his artwork.

Unlike Johnson, Romare Bearden was immersed in African-American culture his entire life. Growing up in the Harlem Renaissance in the 1920s, Bearden's family was a part of a growing community of Black intellectuals, artists, and musicians. Influenced by Blues and Jazz, Bearden's artworks cover a variety of media and aspects of African-American daily life.

A descendant of slaves, Clementine Hunter worked on Melrose Plantation in Louisiana as a manual laborer. Melrose was a haven for writers and artists, and Hunter got her start as a painter when she asked to use some tubes of paint that had been left behind by visiting artist Alberta Kinsey. Hunter’s work ultimately spanned several decades and documented scenes from the labor-intensive farm life she had experienced first hand. Her work was exhibited in several museums and galleries, however in at least one case, Hunter wasn’t allowed to attend the exhibition during normal hours with white patrons. Instead, a friend took her through the back door on a Sunday when the gallery was closed.


This poster is part of the William Johnson Print Set. Click here for details!


Discussion Questions:
Adapted from the poster series titled questionArte by Marilyn Stewart PhD, published by CRIZMAC (Item # 1000 $62.00)

What is it that people express through the artworks they make?

• Do they express their feelings? Always or sometimes?

• Do they express their ideas? Always or sometimes?

• Do they express their beliefs? Always or sometimes?

• Use examples to make your points.

• How is it possible that an artwork can show us the feelings, ideas, or beliefs of an artist?

• Do makers have to feel something in order to express feelings in the artworks they make?

From the Teacher’s Guide of questionArte
“Talking about particular works of art, as well as about art in general, can be the most satisfying activity associated with learning about art and art-makers. Students gain new insights as they examine and investigate works of art and offer possible interpretations about meaning. Students learn from each other in the process of discussing important questions about art. They learn about their own art-making as they consider what they have accomplished through their efforts.