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