Lessons in Art and Piano

Pure exhaustion made me miss my “Focus on Black” post last Friday, so I’m posting this morning to avoid the same mistake this week.

Today, I’m using children’s art to “introduce” African American artist Romare Bearden.  Even though Bearden is far from an “unknown” artist, few people know who I’m talking about when I reference his work:

Considered one of the most important American artists of the 20th century, Romare Bearden’s artwork depicted the African-American culture and experience in creative and thought provoking ways. Born in North Carolina in 1912, Bearden spent much of his career in New York City. Virtually self-taught, his early works were realistic images, often with religious themes. He later transitioned to abstract and Cubist style paintings in oil and watercolor. He is best known for his photomontage compositions made from torn images of popular magazines and assembled into visually powerful statements on African-American life.  -from Biography.com

Last year, my favorite (now retired) second grade teacher, Mrs. Crarey, introduced her students to Bearden’s work. They studied his art, noted his interest in jazz music–which influenced some of his art–learned about his collage technique and then created their own Bearden-esque masterpieces. [Click an image for a closer look]

The children used rulers, pencils, Sharpies, crayons, and markers to imitate Bearden’s collage style. As you can see, they used piano keys patterns for their borders.

I pretty much love everything Bearden created.  The Piano Lesson: Homage to Mary Lou is my favorite, probably because it was the masterpiece that inspired African American playwright August Wilson’s The Piano Lesson, one of my favorite plays.

The piece was inspired by jazz pianist Mary Lou Williams who collaborated with Bearden’s wife, Nannette, on a musical and dance composition.  If you are familiar with Henri Matisse’s The Piano Lesson and The Music Lesson, you will see his influence on the work as well.

There are two versions of the work–the original:

Romare Bearden’s  “The Piano Lesson: Homage to Mary Lou” (popularly known as “The Piano Lesson”). Watercolor, acrylic, graphite and printed paper collage on paper.

And a signed lithograph:

Romare Bearden, “The Piano Lesson,” Lithograph

For more about Bearden’s life and influences, click the links below:

The Bearden Foundation’s page features more resources such as a timeline and an impressive collection of Romare Bearden’s artwork.

Until next time…

Freedom Quilt Patterns | Farewell, Mrs. Crarey

(Log Cabin)

School ends in a few days and Mrs. Crarey, my favorite second grade teacher, is retiring.  I’m sad for all the children who will miss the opportunity of learning under such an amazing person, but I’m happy for her.  She’s earned her retirement and  she will certainly make deep impressions wherever she goes.

Mrs. Crarey is simply awesome.  Even with a classroom full of many different personalities and learning styles, she has a way of dealing with her students as individuals and stimulating their intellectual curiosity.  I love her not only because she is awesome but because she just loves my son, and even today–three years after he finished second grade–she is a friend of his heart.

I will always be grateful for the way she kept his curiosity piqued and gave him more challenging work when he surpassed benchmarks.  She used his love for reading, robots, science, animals, Star Wars, and mystery to keep him engaged.  That meant a lot to this mom who was uncomfortable in a newish environment with a kid who was pining for home (New Orleans) and still adjusting to a school day structure and approach to teaching and learning that were very different from the Montessori curriculum of his previous experience.

When I blogged about the fifth grade African masks a few months ago, I mentioned there was so much more art to see–much more than I can cover in a couple of blog posts.  But in honor of Mrs. Crarey’s retirement and the tremendous gift she has been to the school, this post focuses on her group’s art fair exhibit.

Mrs. Crarey approaches art purposefully.  She typically has her students complete art projects that connect to a lesson. When my son was in her class, the students drew and learned about owls, West African-style dwellings, jewelry, and women’s attire, geckos, dinosaurs, which I blogged about three and a half years ago, Dr. Seuss, and so much more.  I’m going to miss taking a walk down to her classroom and taking a peek at her students’ masterpieces.

In addition to other art pieces, the class created quilt blocks. After reading Bettye Stroud’s The Patchwork Quilt: A Quilt Map to Freedom, reading about the Underground Railroad, viewing and studying maps of the “slave states” and “free states,” students selected a quilt pattern to draw and color.

“Freedom Quilt”

According to some studies, the quilts played an important role in helping enslaved persons make their way to freedom.  Each quilt piece held significant meaning and provided directions and warnings. Although there have been verbal statements from descendants of enslaved persons regarding the quilt code, there has been no physical proof.

Take a look at the children’s quilt pieces [click an image for a closer look]:

Follow the link to find out what each of the patterns mean: Freedom Quilt Codes.

Farewell, Mrs. Crarey…We’re not sure how we’ll survive the coming years without running into you for our quick chats, but we wish you well on your journey.  Thank you for the fond memories, for your generous spirit, and your heart of gold.

Much love…XOXOX

Mrs. Crarey and My Little One, December 2013

A teacher takes a hand, opens a mind, and touches a heart.

African Masks [Children’s Art]

My son is all better and back in school, but I must say, I was in kiddie art heaven last Thursday while I waited to meet with his teacher to collect the assignments he missed.  The school held its annual art fair and though I didn’t see everything, what I did see was pretty impressive.

I’m in the throes of midterm grading, so I’m just going to share the colorful masks done by my son and his peers in Mrs. Trott’s 5th-6th grade (combined) class.

They all started with a basic mask and added touches that express their personalities.

I love every one of these masks!

The students have been learning about the continent of Africa–its landforms, peoples, histories, and cultures–so I’m sure this was a fun exercise to complement their lessons.

Well, I’m back to grading.  I’ll be back eventually with pics of some of the other art.

Happy Monday!

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Collage Art: The Little Matisses

“In the Style of Matisse” by Vaughan

[Art] is like making an expressive gesture with the advantage of permanence.  –Henri Matisse

By now, you know that there’s a special place in my heart for children’s art and art created for children, so as promised, I’m back with another dose of fourth grade goodness.

About a month ago, Mrs. Johnson, my son’s fourth grade teacher, introduced the students to the art of French artist Henri-Émile-Benoît Matisse.  Matisse, whose work spanned many decades, worked with various styles and media.  Mrs. Johnson’s art lesson focused on a technique Matisse mastered late in his career after illness and surgery left him physically unable to paint and sculpt–collages made from brightly colored paper cut in various shapes and sizes. I’m sure the students loved playing with construction paper, glue, and scissors to create their own masterpieces à la Matisse!

My little one created the one above. These (below) were created by the other students in the class. [Click on an image for a closer look].

Sixteen little Matisses. The bold colors and unique shapes are mesmerizing.  It is obvious that the children enjoyed creating the collages. I wonder if they felt as “mysterious” and “adventurous” as some of these pieces feel.

I’m no art expert, but as far as I’m concerned, children’s art–even when it is imitative–is always fresh and always bears a stroke of originality and innocence.

To find out more about Matisse’s life and career, check him out here: Matisse: Life and Painting.

The weekend is here:  Why not take some time to create something with construction paper, scissors, and a little glue?

Love Your Enemies

Martin Luther King, Jr. Artwork (and Essay) by Vaughan, 2015, 3rd Grade

Martin Luther King, Jr. Artwork by VM, 2015, 3rd Grade

Another way that you love your enemy is this: When the opportunity presents itself for you to defeat your enemy, that is the time which you must not do it. There will come a time, in many instances, when the person who hates you most, the person who has misused you most, the person who has gossiped about you most, the person who has spread false rumors about you most, there will come a time when you will have an opportunity to defeat that person. It might be in terms of a recommendation for a job; it might be in terms of helping that person to make some move in life. That’s the time you must do it. That is the meaning of love. In the final analysis, love is not this sentimental something that we talk about. It’s not merely an emotional something. Love is creative, understanding goodwill for all men. It is the refusal to defeat any individual. When you rise to the level of love, of its great beauty and power, you seek only to defeat evil systems. Individuals who happen to be caught up in that system, you love, but you seek to defeat the system.

–Martin Luther King, Jr., “Love Your Enemies,” Delivered at Dexter Avenue Baptist Church, Montgomery, Alabama, November 17, 1957

The Cat Behind the Hat Was Hiding in Walmart

My apologies to those of you who received an incomplete draft version of this post via email.  I mistakenly hit the publish button as I hopped from my chair to take a phone call.  I have a very sensitive mouse apparently!

I’m not sure where you shop, but you might want to check out the clearance books at your local Walmart.  Now, I’m not a Walmart fan.  In fact, I shop there as little as possible–opting to pay more $$$ at Publix for various reasons.  But if you’re into books and art and into Theodor Geisel aka Dr. Seuss, it’s worth a trip if you find the deluxe collector’s edition–Dr. Seuss: The Cat Behind the Hat by Caroline M. Smith.

Dr. Seuss: The Cat Behind the Hat by Caroline M. Smith

My friend, Anitra, found this absolutely wonderful set at Walmart and gave it to our sons’ teacher for Teacher Appreciation Week.  If you’re a blog follower, you know I love Dr. Seuss!  Since I so obviously fell in love with the set, Anitra volunteered to go back to Walmart and pick up one for me.  Take a closer look:

The Cat Behind the Hat Front of Slipcase

The Cat Behind the Hat Front of Slipcase

Closeup of Art and Title

Closeup of Art and Title

The slipcase measures about 16 x 18 inches and is simply gorgeous.  You’ll have to trust me because my quick snaps do the actual items no justice.  When I saw this huge, gorgeous, foil-stamped, cloth-covered slipcase, I fell in love even before I peeked inside for a look at the contents!

What is inside the velvet-lined slipcase, you ask?

  • a cloth-covered 9.75 x 12.25-inch, 320-page hardcover book filled with colorful illustrations from what Geisel called his “Midnight Paintings” and the children’s book illustrations with which we’re all familiar.  Most of the pages are fully illustrated like those pictured below; some contain text and illustrations and/or photos. (Click an image for a closer look).
  • a 12 x 16-inch scrolled color lithograph featuring this image.

Cat Behind the Hat Images-4

  • three 10.5 x 8.5-inch black-and-white prints tucked into a pocket inside the slipcase (click an image for a larger view).

The book was previously published as Secrets of the Deep in connection with The Art of Dr. Seuss.  This revised edition was published in 2012 by the Chase Group, LLC and produced by Amazon Publishing in collaboration with Andrew McMeel Publishing and Lionheart Books.  The text, as noted earlier, was written by Caroline M. Smith, but the images were compiled and edited by William W. Dreyer, Michael Reagan, and Robert Chase, Jr.

From the product description insert:

This exquisitely produced collector’s edition redefines Theodor Geisel, known to the world as Dr. Seuss, as an iconic American artist. Illustrator by day, surrealist by night, Dr. Seuss created a body of little-known work that he called his “Midnight Paintings.” For sixty years, this work allowed Geisel to expand his artistic boundaries outside the confines of commercial influences and deadlines.  […] Though he fiercely protected his “Midnight Paintings” from criticism during his lifetime, his intention all along was for these works to be seen when he was gone. This comprehensive look at the art that he created over his lifetime is an eye-opening peek behind the public persona into the real story of he man who was Dr. Seuss.

The curators and publisher are quick to note that they had no intention of trying to offer Geisel’s work in its entirety, but instead wished to present a “medley” of his work in a “chronological-ish” way.

Here’s the Table of Contents.

The Cat Behind the Hat Table of Contents

The Cat Behind the Hat Table of Contents

The book contains 80 of Geisel’s “Midnight Paintings” along with the more popular illustrations, advertisements, drafts, etc.  For the artists among us, the medium used for each piece is also provided. I wish I could share every delicious image with you.

I am seriously giddy every time I open this book!  The art is amazing, as expected, and I get to enjoy it whenever I want!  I also sincerely appreciate the intimate look at one of the greatest storytellers of our time and the glimpse of his struggles and triumphs.  I empathize with his desire to keep these “midnight paintings” away from public scrutiny, perhaps avoiding painful criticism of some of his most personal works.

Aside from the fact that I consider this a literary and artistic treasure–one that my family and I are thrilled to have in our collection–the price makes this find even more spectacular. Here’s the original price:

Cat Behind the Hat Images-3_2

Yes, $300.  Thankfully, Anitra found this in the clearance section for…wait for it…wait for it…$16.00!!! Can you believe it? That’s slightly more than 5% of the list price.

I am sooo grateful to have friends who look out for me and cater to my interests. I am not much of a shopper–don’t like shopping much–so I rely on these kind souls to find the super bargains and call me and let me know about them.  I would not have thought to look in the clearance section of Walmart for this!

Thank you, Anitra! You have such a good eye for bargains and a giving heart!