The poignant installation “Picture the Dream: The Story of the Civil Rights Movement Through Picture Books at the New York Historical Society explores the events, people, and themes of the civil rights movement through the children’s picture book.
Picture books are compelling forms of visual expression not just for young children. This exhibition showcases 80 artworks from picture book artists who interweave art and storytelling, history and now. Looking at the excerpts from many pictures books around the themes of the civil rights movement provides depth, diverse voices, and powerful meanings. The stories presented inspire young people and viewers to speak up and speak out as agents of transformation and social change. The exhibit tells important stories about the movement’s icons, including Rosa Parks, Ruby Bridges, Congressman John Lewis, Ambassador Andrew Young, and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Scenes are presented of Rosa Parks refusing to give up her seat on a segregated bus in Montgomery, Alabama. Ruby Bridges integrating her New Orleans elementary school, and the Black students who catalyzed the sit-in movement at the segregated Woolworth’s lunch counter in Greensboro, North Carolina.
Some of the many highlighted illustrators and authors include Faith Ringgold, Brian Pinkney, Nadir Nelson, Jacqueline Woodson, and many more.
Picture the Dream is an open invitation to start important discussions with children, friends, and family about race, equity and social justice. Take a look at a list of all the books in the show and here is the family discussion guide created by High Museum of Art in Georgia. You can also find lesson plans and a powerpoint of 19 key images from the exhibit in this teacher resource kit.
Here are some ways I use picture books with my middle school students to present key themes and scaffold complex ideas.
Read Alouds – Don’t just leave read aloud to elementary school teachers, in secondary education reading aloud picture books help to create a classroom community and build multimodal comprehension skills. Images and words work side by side to communicate a message. Read aloud can be used to hook students into a lesson or even useful as a teaching point during a mini-lesson.
Gallery Walks – Images are powerful storytelling tools. Just like in a museum exhibit, hanging up the images from the picture books can allow students to read closely, infer the dialogue, and convey meaning from the visual text.
Small Group Work – I often during station work leave a collection of picture books at one station for students to read, evaluate, and analyze to pull out key details and draw connections. Scaffolding guiding questions help students look closer at the images and text and the story presented. I might ask students what do they see, what does it say, what do I think, and continue with sentence frames or specific questions to climb the ladder of critical thinking.
Jigsaws – Each student reads a different picture book along the same theme or topic and then shared the powerful elements of the story with the small group. Students put their heads together to make connections and draw conclusions about the bigger questions presented in the texts.
More than two decades I was introduced to Faith Ringgold’s gorgeous quilts. They became catalysts for a memoir unit with my middle school students in New York City. We visited an exhibit of Ringgold’s quilts to look up close at the beautiful illustrations, vivid stories, and craftsmanship of her quilts. Not only is Ms. Ringgold an artist, she is an author and illustrator as well. I read to students her famed Tar Beach, a beautiful story quilt turned picture book, introduces readers to Cassie Louise Lightfoot. She has a dream, to go wherever she wants for the rest of her life. One night the rooftop (tar beach) of her family’s Harlem apartment building, her dreams come true when the stars lift her up, and she flies over the city, claiming the buildings and the city as her own. The pictures themselves are bright and colorful illustrating Cassie as she floats among the stars and night sky. Students wrote their own memoirs with magical realism elements like Ringgolds.
Faith Ringgold’s art is now on display at the New Museum in New York City. The museum states, “Bringing together over fifty years of work, “Faith Ringgold: American People” provides the most comprehensive assessment to date of the artist’s impactful vision. For sixty years, Ringgold has drawn from both personal autobiography and collective histories to both document her life as an artist and mother and to amplify the struggles for social justice and equity. From creating some of the most indelible artworks of the civil rights era to challenging accepted hierarchies of art versus craft through her experimental story quilts, Faith Ringgold has produced a body of work that bears witness to the complexity of the American experience.” Within the beauty of her art she brings attention to issues of race, gender, and economic inequalities. She provides an element of art history and art criticism to her work, especially her quilts, and borrows from other cultures to present her art work in new ways likeTibetan Tankas. Her work is semi-autobiographical which lends it self as a model of agency and voice in art and writing.
As a explored the exhibit and mused over Ringgold’s lifetime of work, I thought there were multiple entry points to use her artistry in the classroom.
The Sunflowers Quilting Bee at Arles: The French Collection Part I, #4, (1991). In The Sunflowers Quilting Bee at Arles, Ringgold portrays a group of famous and influential Black women from across history seated at a quilting table: Sojourner Truth, Harriet Tubman, Madam C.J. Walker, Ida B. Wells, Mary McLeod Bethune, Fannie Lou Hamer, Rosa Parks, and Ella Baker. These women advocated for African American rights, freedoms, and opportunities, reshaping the course of American history. The group stitches fabric covered with sunflowers, while the mid-nineteenth-century Dutch artist, Vincent van Gogh, stands in the background holding a bouquet. Some of Van Gough’s most famous works are his paintings of sunflowers in Arles, which are referenced in the title and imagery of this work.
Ringgold said of The French Collection series:
“….I wanted to show there were Black people when Picasso, Monet, and Matisse were making art. I wanted to show that African art and Black people had a place in that history.
…For me it also had a lot to do with my mother, as you know. She was a seamstress, and she taught me how to back the quilts up and how to put the seams in and hold them together. Although she was a dressmaker, she still knew all the steps to make quilts, because she had grown up at a time when African Americans still made quilts to go on beds. Women would sit around and make quilts and talk and tell stories as they did. So yes, storytelling and quilts have been related for centuries…”
— Faith Ringgold, interview in the exhibition catalog, Faith Ringgold: American People
When students examine the quilt, ask them “What is the relationship between the man holding sunflowers and the women at the quilting table, and what are they doing? Who is in the background? Who is in the foreground or front of the painting? Who do you think the artist wants us to notice first?”
Think how Ringgold’s mixed-media story quilt inspire us to make a narrative artwork honoring people we know from our own lives and families, or important people from history or today?
Students can create a mixed-media story quilt collage using materials available (or digitally) to celebrate people we know and love in our daily lives, or people we admire from afar.
Blending Art, World Cultures, & Personal Heroes
Besides Ringgold’s story quilts, she created “tanka paintings” — tanka is a Tibetan Buddhist painting on cotton, silk appliqué, usually depicting a Buddhist deity. In the 1970s, Ringgold began making paintings on fabric inspired by Tibetan tankas that could be easily rolled, transported, and stored. Although they represented a departure for Ringgold, an important thread from previous series remained: the use of hand-painted text. The Feminist Series includes quotations from nineteenth-century feminist icons such as Maria Stewart and Clarissa Lawrence that hold special resonance for Ringgold.
Students can learn about and research Tanka paintings. Similar to Ringgold, students choose an icon they wish to represent on a Tanka they will create.
History of Quilting
Faith Ringgold took the traditional craft of quilt making (which has its roots in the slave culture of the south – pre-civil war era) and re-interpreted its function to tell stories of her life and those of others in the black community. African American quilts are significant artistic pieces of both the past and present history for black Americans. They tell stories of slavery and segregation, giving viewers valuable history lessons while also representing beacons of hope. They are symbols of culture, community, and freedom. For more information about the stories behind African American quilts check out arthelp.com. Students can research and report on the incredible history of quilting and see how it impacts present day fabric artists like Bias Butler.
One of Faith Ringgold’s most famous story quilts is Tar Beach, which depicts a family gathered on their rooftop on a hot summer night. Check out the video about Faith Ringgold talking about creating her quilts.
Memoir & Storytelling
Faith Ringgold’s artworks–startling “story quilts,” politically charged paintings, and more–hang in the Studio Museum in Harlem, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Guggenheim Museum, the Museum of Modern Art, and other major museums around the world, as well as in the private collections. Through her quilts she retellings her family memories. Have students write their own memoirs and then illustrate them.
During World War II, untold numbers of artworks and pieces of cultural property were stolen by Nazi forces. After the war, an estimated one million artworks and 2.5 million books were recovered. Many more were destroyed.
You might have seen movies like Monuments Men which tell the true stories of the British and American men and women who tracked, located, and recovered looted objects of Western Civilization from the Nazis and Hitler during WWII or The Woman in Gold which tells the true story of Maria Altmann, a Jewish refugee, who sued the Austrian government to recover artwork she believes rightfully belongs to her family.
The Jewish Museum in New York City’s current exhibition Afterlives chronicles the layered stories of the objects that survived from famous paintings to religious artifacts that were stolen by the Nazis. Some items were supposed to be destroyed where as other painting were selected by Nazi military leader Hermann Goering for his personal collection, and even put in storage for Hitler’s degenerate art exhibits and antisemitic exhibitions. Afterlives explores the circumstances of each painting’s theft, their post-war rescue, and their afterlives in museums and private collections.
Afterlives includes objects by renowned artists as Pierre Bonnard, Paul Cézanne, Marc Chagall, Gustave Courbet, Paul Klee, Franz Marc, Henri Matisse, Pablo Picasso, and Camille Pissarro. Treasured pieces of Judaica, including rare examples of Jewish ceremonial objects from destroyed synagogues, are also on view, as well as rarely seen archival photographs and documents that connect the objects to history.
75 years after the Second World War, Afterlives explores how surviving artworks and other precious objects were changed by those events, and how they have moved through time, bearing witness to profound historical ruptures while also acting as enduring carriers of individual expression, knowledge, and creativity. The exhibition follows the paths taken by works of art across national borders, through military depots, and in and out of networks of collectors, looters, ideologues, and restitution organizations.
One of the plaques in the exhibits reads, In war, property becomes power, and stolen art becomes an instrument of policy. During WWII, looting from Jewish collections was widespread and included both systematic plunder and opportunistic thefts. One of the largest Nazi art-looting tasks forces, operating throughout occupied Europe, was the Einsatzsab Reichsleiter Rosenberg, ERR. The ERR was shared with stealing valuables – jewelry, furniture, and especially works of art. Some were absorbed into Nazi collections as marks of prestige; others were sold on the international market to raise funds for the Nazi war machines and many, labeled “degenerate,” were destroyed. Below is the audio transcript of the exhibit and the artifacts.
The Nazi’s hid the art work they stole across multiple countries and continents. In 1945 Allied forces found looted art that was transferred to a salt mine in Altaussee in Austria, one of the largest Nazi storage depots. The mine’s underground tunnels housed more than six thousand artworks, including masterpieces by Michelangelo, Rembrandt, Jan van Eyck, and Vermeer. Some items were sent from Paris to Czechoslovakia like Picasso’s 1929 Group of Characters.
The Monuments Men Foundation has a lot of information on its website of the men and women who helped to saved the art, more about the discoveries and returns, and more about restitution. Anyone can discover the story of the Monuments Men through an interactive online game developed by Mystery City Games. In this point-and-click adventure, you will collect clues, solve puzzles, and complete missions as you race to find some of Europe’s most precious pieces of art looted by the Nazis. Experience the story in a whole new way through beautiful graphics and fun puzzles as you compete or collaborate to solve the most missions!
You can read more about Hitler’s “Degenerate” Art Exhibits used to politically and culturally spread Nazi ideals. The United States Holocaust Memorial Museum provides more details of the Degenerate Art Exhibits and Disposal of Confiscated Art.
When my students are learning about WWII and the Holocaust I have a QR code art exhibit with some of the art Hitler deemed “degenerate.” I used this guide and pamphlet for students to record their observations of the art work, ask questions, and dismantle Nazi propaganda.
History is more than dates, name, and places. Each piece of art that was looted during WWII tells a story and encompasses a journey that is steeped in history worth sharing with our students.
This past weekend I was able to visit Savannah, Georgia for the first time. I was enamored by all the history around me and thoughts of all the take aways that I was immersed in to bring back to my students to help understand all aspects of history as it relates to this town.
1. Ships of the Sea – Since Savannah is located along the river and includes a major global portal across centuries, the Ships of the Sea Museum exhibits ship models, paintings and maritime antiques, principally from the great Era of Atlantic trade during the 18th and 19th centuries.
Ships of the Sea Maritime Museum, founded in 1966, exhibits ship models, paintings and maritime antiques, principally from the great era of Atlantic trade and travel between England and America during the 18th and 19th centuries.The Museum features nine galleries of ship models, maritime paintings and artifacts.The vast majority of ship models were commissioned by the Museum to interpret the rich story of Savannah’s maritime history.The collection of models includes, colonial vessels, ironclads, ocean-going steamers, and modern navy ships. The models have been strenuously researched and intricately detailed.
2. Slavery – The arrival of the slave ship Wanderer to the Georgia coast in 1859, involved the illegal capture and transport of Africans, a conspiracy, the hierarchy of both Savannah society and the United States government, over 40 years of failed U.S. policies, and a capital punishment trial.
The Ships of the Sea Museum offers an online exhibit the chronicle of the Wanderer is explored, along with the historic context within which this intriguing story unfolded. The history of the slave trade is examined along with U.S. legislation regarding slavery, such as the abolition of the Slave Trade Law, the Fugitive Slave Act, and the Kansas-Nebraska Act, the influence of John Brown’s abolitionist actions and the historic Dred Scott Supreme Court decision.
3. Sugar – “A most precious product, very necessary for the use and health of mankind”
– William of Tyre, 12th century
The sweet culinary habits wealthy Savannahians is exhibited at the Jepson Center Telfair Museum dedicated to the consumption of sugar in the port city. This unique display gives visitors a glimpse into humans’ connection to sugar and its complicated history, dependent on slavery, and the city’s socio-economics. Porcelain and silver were shipped from Europe and beyond into the Port of Savannah, providing the elite of this city with purchasing options far surpassing those of any inland towns of the 19th century.
4. Revolutionary War – The siege of Savannah, the second deadliest battle of the Revolutionary War (1775-83), took place in the fall of 1779. It was the most serious military confrontation in Georgia between British and Continental (American revolutionary) troops, as the Americans, with help from French forces, tried unsuccessfully to liberate the city from its yearlong occupation by the British.
5. Yellow Fever – Savannah’s first major yellow fever epidemic occurred in 1820 when 666 people died. In the 1854 epidemic, 1,040 people died. Locals who could afford to leave fled the city and businesses shut down.
6. Civil War – Hundreds of antebellum houses, buildings and churches abound with Civil War history in this city. The Savannah area has three historic forts once occupied by Confederate and Union forces, and miles of coastal channels where gunboats and ironclads sailed and slithered through the marshes, inlets and backwaters of historic Chatham County.
The Civil War is more than what happened on the killing fields of battle. The old city is woven with the stories of generals, planters and brokers, enslaved (and later free) West Africans who lived in the historic lanes. And there are the families — regardless of color or nationality — Savannah’s diverse multicultural population is another side to Civil War history in Savannah that is more than worth the time to explore.
Civil War Savannah is also a place where Union General Sherman, and 60,000 Union troops entered in December of 1864.
7. The 3rd Oldest Art Museum – Designed for Alexander Telfair, the Telfair mansion was constructed in 1819 on the site of the former colonial Government House, the official residence of Royal Governor James Wright. Alexander commissioned William Jay, a young English architect, to design his new home. Jay had recently arrived in Savannah from England to oversee the construction of the residence of Richard Richardson (now Telfair Museums’ Owens–Thomas House & Slave Quarters).
In 1875, Alexander’s sister Mary – heir to the family fortune and last to bear the Telfair name – bequeathed the house and its furnishings to the Georgia Historical Society to be opened as a museum. The Society hired German-born artist Carl Brandt to create the new institution. Working with New York-based architect Detlef Lienau and Savannah-based architect Augustus Schwab, Brandt remodeled the old Telfair home and constructed an addition to house a new collection of art. The museum opened to the public in 1886, making it the oldest public art museum in the South and the first museum in the United States founded by a woman.
In 1906, Telfair Museums’ Board of Trustees asked American artist Gari Melchers to serve as the museum’s fine arts advisor and to make purchases on its behalf. During his tenure from 1906 to 1916, he facilitated the purchase of many of the best-known works in the permanent collection thanks to his many connections to the international art world.
Today, Mary Telfair’s unique gift to the city of Savannah has grown into an institution comprising three architecturally significant buildings, over 6,300 works of art, and a proud history of educational programming and exciting exhibitions.
8. Ghosts & Hauntings – Savannah is widely known as the most haunted city in America. Walk into any historic building or cemetery in Savannah and you may catch sight of ghostly presences surrounding you. Some say that the city was built on the graves of indigenous people and then over time built on top of cemeteries of slaves and those who died during the Revolutionary and Civil Wars. In fact, unbeknownst to us, we stayed at the Marshall House one of the top haunted hotels in the U.S. Since 1851, this hotel has been used as a hospital three times – once for Union soldiers and twice for 19th century Yellow Fever epidemics.
9. Civil Rights– On March 16, 1960, black students led by the NAACP Youth Council staged sit-ins at white-only lunch counters in eight downtown stores. Three students, Carolyn Quilloin, Ernest Robinson, and Joan Tyson, were arrested in the Azalea Room here at Levy’s Department Store (now SCAD’s Jen Library). In response, African-American leaders W.W. Law, Hosea Williams, and Eugene Gadsden organized a nearly complete boycott of city businesses and led voter registration drives that helped elect a moderate city government led by Mayor Malcolm Maclean. Sit-ins and the boycott continued until October 1961, when Savannah repealed its ordinance requiring segregated lunch counters. The boycott continued until all facilities were desegregated in October 1963, eight months before the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. In 1964, Martin Luther King, Jr. declared Savannah the most desegregated city south of the Mason-Dixon Line.
10. Mythology of Moonlight & Magnolias – There are many historic mansions built in 1820s in Savannah. Whereas, when these museums opened in the 1950s, there was no mention of the people enslaved on the property. Like most house museums, the focus used to be on the luxury and aesthetic appeal of the lifestyles of the wealthy, centering and mythology of moonlights and magnolias. It has taken decades of labor, research, and collaboration to construct an honest interpretation of the history of this period. Many museums continue to hone their presentation as facts present themselves. Savannah’s historic homes can offer a closer look at the lives of its (mostly white and wealthy) residents in times past, an appreciation of the architecture and furnishings of a particular period.
My students are currently studying the Holocaust and WWII. Collaborating with social studies, students are reading in small groups a wide selection of historical fiction, nonfiction, and memoirs connected to this time period. In addition to the independent books, primary sources, propaganda posters, diaries, poems, and art work are presented to help students learn about this time period and from multiple perspectives.
A current exhibit at The Ronald S. Lauder Neue Galerie in New York City, Museum for German and Austrian Art foreshadows the atrocities of Germany in the 1930s. — Yes, this is the same Ronald S. Lauder who purchased Gustav Klimt’s Portrait ofAdele Bloch-Bauer I (1907) better know asthe Woman in Gold also on permanent display at the museum.
Currently on exhibit is “Before the Fall: German and Austrian Art of the 1930s” an exhibition devoted to the development of the arts in Germany and Austria during a decade marked by economic crisis, political disintegration, and social chaos. The website states, “This exhibition, comprised of nearly 150 paintings and works on paper, will trace the many routes traveled by German and Austrian artists and will demonstrate the artistic developments that foreshadowed, reflected, and accompanied the beginning of World War II. Central topics of the exhibition will be the reaction of the artists towards their historical circumstances, the development of style with regard to the appropriation of various artistic idioms, the personal fate of artists, and major political events that shaped the era.” Works by Max Beckmann, Otto Dix, Max Ernst, Oskar Kokoschka, and Alfred Kubin are presented alongside pieces by lesser-known artists such as Friedl Dicker-Brandeis, Albert Paris Gütersloh, Karl Hubbuch, Richard Oelze, Josef Scharl, Franz Sedlacek, and Rudolf Wacker.
This exhibit and the paintings are windows and doorways into artists premonitions and warnings that something terrible was brewing in Europe in the 1930s. Many of these artists were deemed “degenerate” by Nazis because of political and religious affiliations. As the The New York Times states, the art work on display is “more than mere evidence of barbarity.”
In order to help my students understand the events that occurred during this time period and understand the hatred and the horror in conjunction with the books they are reading, I created a virtual “degenerate” art exhibit. Upon entering the classroom, students were given a pamphlet with excerpts of Hitler’s Speech at the Opening of the House of German Art in Munich (July 18, 1937). Select paintings were posted around the room for students to view in a gallery format. I also included a QR Code to link to a slide show of the pictures on the art show pamphlet. Utilizing Visual Thinking Strategies (VTS), students viewed the paintings. Together we viewed closely and discussed as a large class Felix Nussbaum’s Self Portrait [see above]. The next activity required students to complete the statements from the point of view of Hitler and the perspective of a modern artist deemed “degenerate.”
The closing quote at the bottom of the pamphlet poses a quote from the artist, Paul Klee, “Art does not reproduce what we see. It makes us see.” Isn’t that what we want for our students, to make us see, provoke questions, make connections, and build empathy.
The New York Botanical Gardens is currently showcasing artworks by world-renowned artist Dale Chihuly. There are more than 20 installations, including drawings and early works that reveal the evolution and development of Chihuly’s artistic process during his world renown career.
Chihuly is known for his vibrant glass sculptures. His work is included in more than 200 museum collections worldwide. He has been the recipient of many awards, including twelve honorary doctorates and two fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts. Glass as an art form is relatively new in regards to American art history. Glass as an art form did not flourish until the 1960s. Dale Chihuly was introduced to glass while studying interior design at the University of Washington. After graduating in 1965, Chihuly enrolled in the first glass program in the country, at the University of Wisconsin. He continued his studies at the Rhode Island School of Design (RISD), where he later established the glass program and taught for more than a decade. Due in part to the influence of Dale Chihuly and his founding of Pilchuck Glass School, glass has taken on an unique form of expression and art (http://www.chihuly.com/learn).
Chihuly’s work and installation at the New York Botanical Gardens is breath-taking and inspiring. In fact, The New York Botanical Garden, in partnership with Poetry Society of America, presents a Poetry Contest for kids in elementary, middle, and high school who live or study in New York, New Jersey and Connecticut. Students are invited to submit poems (written individually or with student collaborators) inspired by the installations on view at The New York Botanical Garden. The poems are judged by Newbury Award Winning poet, Jaqueline Woodson.
Here are three of my favorite poems on display with Chihuly’s work.
Oh Sapphire Star, your beauty and grace
To see you completely
I’d have my eyes, detached from my face.
You are simple and complicated, but never overrated Whenever I see you, my amazement is automatically instigated. To pronounce your greatness, I’d have to say it with my mind When I rst saw you
You put your signature on my subconscious
Which will forever be signed.
You are a ne work of art, seeming to be made by da Vinci You have my awe, and everyone else’s
Across every sea.
Sapphire Star, you have also taught me a lesson
That of which my heart and mind is taped
To be yourself
No matter who you are
Or what type of abstract shape.
Marcus Lopez-Pierre, 6th Grade
Success Academy Midtown West New York, New York
Spirals like the way dance makes my hips move left and right
Overjoy people’s faces with the vibrant colors, allusions
Loops like the way natural hair does in its natural state bouncy and coily
Dazzles you with brightness that may blind your eyes in a snap of a hand Exquisite like the sparkles sparkling on a disco ball
Luxurious for everyone to enjoy going beyond what they can imagine
Curves like the way a worm slithers back into its habitat
Injects you with freedom into a new world like Chihuly
Ties all the pieces together to make it unique
Rams all the ideas, differences in your mind that it suddenly goes “poof” Ongoing into my brain was rst a little thing that wasn’t possible
Now it’s a large scale glass curling sculpture Sol del Citrón
Essence Sanders, 8th Grade
Harlem Academy New York, New York
Glistening in the sun The way water does On days where
Like a diamond Sparkles
On its throne in the sky
With bubbles Perched
Column of water Breaks at the top Into a petaly array And cascading down Sending ripples out From its landing point
Delphinium Sibley-Wilson, 4th Grade
Bronx Community Charter School Bronx, New York
For Chris, Andrew, April, Jenna, Carly, Raquel, and all teachers who inspire creativity among young people.
Here is a list of a dozen picture books that celebrate visual arts, creativity, and making something from nothing. These books are not about famous artists like Pablo Picasso, Georgia O’Keefe, or Jackson Pollack. Rather, this list is based on characters who celebrate art and originality as in The Art Lesson by Tommy dePaola, create rocket ships and skyscrapers from empty boxes in Antoinette Portis’ Not A Box, and that anyone — even a squirrel living in Central Park — can be an artist as described in John Lithgow’s Macawber. Read, share, and enjoy!