Phillips-At-Home Summer Activity: Storytelling and Perspective

Through this activity, we will take a look at a selection of Jacob Lawrence’s panels from his epic Migration Series and explore the way he tells a story through art. A series is a group of artworks that work together to tell one story. What connects these paintings to each other, and what makes them a series? Think about the stories Jacob Lawrence is telling and the story you would like to tell.

Lawrence 1_panels

(left) Jacob Lawrence, The Migration Series, Panel no. 1: During World War I there was a great migration north by southern African Americans., between 1940 and 1941, Casein tempera on hardboard, 12 x 18 in. Acquired 1942; © 2016 The Jacob and Gwendolyn Knight Lawrence Foundation, Seattle / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York (right) Jacob Lawrence, The Migration Series, Panel no. 3: From every southern town migrants left by the hundreds to travel north., between 1940 and 1941, Casein tempera on hardboard, 12 x 18 in. Acquired 1942; © 2016 The Jacob and Gwendolyn Knight Lawrence Foundation, Seattle / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

Look closely: Think about the stories being told in the panels, both individually and as a whole. Look at the way Lawrence layers objects and people. What do you think he is trying to tell us about home? What kind of stories can you tell about your home through art?

About the artist: Jacob Lawrence was born in September of 1917 in Atlantic City, New Jersey. His family, originally from South Carolina, moved north during the Great Migration, the movement of southern African Americans to northern cities. When he was 13, Lawrence and his family relocated to Harlem, a center of African American culture and community in New York City. It was here, in this environment, that Lawrence received his education. Lawrence’s work was largely inspired by the people and places he saw in his very own neighborhood.

The Migration Series tells the story of the hardships faced by African American families who traveled from their homes in the south all the way to the cities of the north. The series was first displayed as “a solo show at the Downtown Gallery in Manhattan in 1941, making Lawrence the first black artist represented by a New York gallery.” The series has a total of 60 paintings, which have been split between The Phillips Collection and the Museum of Modern Art in New York.

Lawrence 2_ materials

materials

What you need for this activity

Colored Pencils, markers, or whatever you like to use for drawing

Plain white paper (more than one sheet)

Scissors

Glue Stick

Your unique home or neighborhood

 

Age suggestion

7 and up

 

Steps

Option 1: Draw the things you know are in your home and/or neighborhood on a piece of paper. You will be cutting these drawings out and rearranging them, so keep them small; try to fit at least 8 drawings on a single piece of paper. If you choose this option you can skip to step 5.

Option 2: Make yourself a small sketchbook so you can go outside and draw the things you see!

Step 1: Fold your blank piece of paper in half, hamburger-style. To help make sure you have a good crease, try running the handle of your scissors along the fold. Then, unfold your paper and fold it in half again, hot dog style. When you unfold your paper, you should see four boxes.

Lawrence 2_step 1 2

Step 2: Lay your paper flat on the table so that the longer side is facing you. Next, fold each edge in towards the center like double doors. When you’re done with this and you unfold your paper, there should be 8 boxes.

Lawrence 2_step 3

Step 3: Now, exactly as you did in Step 1, fold your paper hamburger style. With the folded edge facing you, cut along the crease that divides the paper in half (with the help of an adult!), stopping at the midpoint where the other crease is. You will have cut halfway up the piece of paper starting from the folded edge.

Lawrence 2_step 4

Step 4: Unfold the paper again and, like you did in Step 2, fold it hotdog style. Carefully holding onto each edge of the paper, push it together until the cutout middle section has formed a diamond shape. Continue pushing until it looks like a plus sign and then keep pushing until you form your eight-page booklet! In later steps, when you have drawn on each of these pages, you will be able to unfold your booklet and have eight drawings each in their separate square.

Lawrence 2_step 5

Step 5: Draw people, buildings, animals, or plants that you see around your neighborhood that will help you tell your story. With an adult, you can take your sketchbook outside and go for a walk to see all of the different things that make your neighborhood unique.

Step 6: When you have enough drawings to tell your story, unfold your booklet and lay it flat on a table (or, if you chose option 1 and didn’t make a booklet, just lay your piece of paper flat on the table) and cut out each of your drawings. You may want to ask an adult to help you out with this step.

Lawrence 2_step 6

Step 7: Arrange the people, animals, and objects that you’ve drawn on a new piece of paper. Think about the way you are arranging them. Try to make some drawings look like they are in front of or behind others. Try as many different compositions as you’d like, and remember to think about which compositions will best tell the story you want to tell.

Lawrence 2_step 7

Step 8: When you’ve found the composition that you like best, glue down each of your drawings and add a background. Come up with a one-sentence caption for your artwork.

Lawrence final

Step 9: Repeat these 10 steps to make as many different panels as your story needs! It might need 3, and it might need 12; it’s entirely up to you.

Share your creation with family and friends; what stories do they see in your artwork?

Artistic Echoes: Chase and Whistler

Chase_The Young Orphan

William Merritt Chase, The Young Orphan, c. 1884. Oil on canvas, 44 x 42 in. National Academy Museum, New York

The Young Orphan is one of William Merritt Chase’s boldest early compositions, exemplifying his experimentation with an abstract, expressive language of color and form. Chase likely found his model for the picture from the Protestant Half Orphan Asylum, located next door to his Tenth Street studio at 61 West 10th Street. Thinly painted in gradations of red and black on a coarsely woven canvas, the painting recalls the atmospheric, subtle color harmonies in the work of the well-known American artist James Abbott McNeill Whistler, whom Chase greatly admired. Whistler’s Arrangement in Gray and Black No. 1 (Portrait of the Artist’s Mother) had been a sensation in New York’s 1882 Society of American Artists exhibition and in the Paris Salon of 1883. The year after he completed this picture, Chase spent the summer with Whistler in London, where he produced the portrait of Whistler.

Elsa Smithgall, William Merritt Chase: A Modern Master exhibition curator

The Ambiguity of a Photograph, Part 1: Aesthetic Historical Documents

Photographs are historical documents. They capture a split second of a particular moment. A slice of life.

A photograph doesn’t lie.

Well, that’s not always true; especially in the age of Instagram filters and Photoshop. The history of the medium is filled with photographers who obsessively edited, altered, and cropped their images. In the darkroom and today on computers, light and shadow can be manipulated until the photographer is satisfied. Even what photographers choose to capture and print is very selective. One only has to look at the contact sheets of some of the most famous photographers to see the countless images that were left unaltered and never printed.

siskind_Chicago 30

Aaron Siskind, Chicago 30, 1949. Gelatin silver print, 13 3/4 x 7 1/2 in. The Phillips Collection, Washington, DC, Gift of the Phillips Contemporaries, 2004

I first encountered Aaron Siskind’s Chicago 30 (1949) a few weeks ago. Currently located in the original house of the museum, the work sits above one of the old tiled fireplaces. First drawn to the dramatic contrast of black and white, I marveled at the work’s ability to capture and hold my attention. Photography always grabs me, but usually what I like about the medium is the ability to place the content within a time or a place. This photo is removed from all context. It is unclear what has been photographed by Siskind. The only hint of context is the title, Chicago 30.

In the early years of his career, Siskind engaged with traditional documentary photography, often through a socially engaged lens. One of Siskind’s most well-known projects is the Harlem Document. The project focuses on documentation, but Siskind’s eye for artistry is present particularly in one of his most famous works, Savoy Dancers.

Compared to his documentary work and given its lack of context and content, can Chicago 30 be considered a historical document? This photograph captures what Siskind saw through his camera lens, but we, the viewer, don’t know or understand what he saw. The work can be considered documentation of a particular moment in Siskind’s life, but without concrete information and context, the viewer is left only with the aesthetics of the photograph.

This is a multi-part blog post; check back next week for Part 2.

Emma Kennedy, Marketing & Communications Intern