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


What you need for this activity

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

Plain white paper (more than one sheet)


Glue Stick

Your unique home or neighborhood


Age suggestion

7 and up



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.

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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.

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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.

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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?

Acting Out Arts Integration

Teacher Institute Jacob Lawrence 1

Teachers spent time learning about Jacob Lawrence and practicing playwriting in the galleries where The Migration Series is on view.

On July 7 and 8, teachers from schools in Washington, DC, and Prince George’s County spent two days at the Phillips working together to discuss and practice strategies for arts integration. The experience not only incorporated lesson planning, but it brought the group together to form a teacher cohort community. With a focus on Jacob Lawrence’s Migration Series, the focal point of an exhibition this fall, the cohort used playwriting to navigate Lawrence’s work. From playing theater games to writing their own monologues, the cohort practiced ways to bring stories to life for their students with the help of playwright Jacqueline Lawton.

Teacher Institute Jacob Lawrence 4

Left: Former Phillips’s Curator Beth Turner video conferenced with the cohort to provide behind-the-scenes information about Jacob Lawrence and The Migration Series. Right: Teachers use artworks and photographs to tell stories.

The two-day institute also familiarized teachers with Prism.K12, the museum’s teaching tool to create arts integration for any subject. As they brainstormed ideas of how to incorporate Prism.K12 arts integration strategies and playwriting in their classrooms, they also used social media as a way to share their thoughts with one another and the greater educator community. Teachers are already sharing classroom tips and will document classroom process; follow along in Twitter and Pinterest with #PrismK12 and #MigrationExperience for more!

Teacher Institute Jacob Lawrence 2

Teachers explored theater games to build community and boost creativity!

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Laura Hoffman, Manager of K–12 Digital and Educator Initiatives ran a “Social Media Bootcamp” for teachers.

Dispatches: Inspired Artworks in Mostar

Phillips Educators Rachel Goldberg and Andrea Kim Neighbors are in Bosnia facilitating workshops on Prism.K12 and Jacob Lawrence with students, emerging artists, and teachers.

exhibition in Mostar_AKN

Artists, friends, and family gather at an exhibition of work inspired by Jacob Lawrence’s The Migration Series in Mostar.

What a week! We have had a wonderful time here in Mostar working with emerging artists, elementary students, high school students, orphans, and teachers. Last night at our home base in Mostar, OKC Abrašević, we had an exhibition of artwork created during this week’s numerous workshops. Many of the artists we worked with attended, bringing their friends and families. It was great to see so many people view these artworks, expressing personal and community stories inspired by The Migration Series. I can’t help but wonder what Jacob Lawrence would think. Today we leave Mostar and head to Trebinje. More to come!

Andrea Kim Neighbors, Specialist for School, Outreach, and Family Programs