The Underground Railroad is a well-known aspect of African American history. Slaves would follow the Drinking Gourd (the Big Dipper) as a guide to lead them to the north. Runaways would travel at night and mostly during the winter season so the could avoid slave trackers.
I first heard about the story of Ellen and William Craft on an episode of The Dollop Podcast . Ellen was the illegitimate child of and was so light skin she was mistaken for white. She and her husband, William, Escape From Slavery by disguising Ellen as a injured white man and William posed as Ellen slave. Though their journey Ellen made sure to only allow William to speak for her so that her voice would not give them away and wrapped herself in bandages to hide in plain sight. The two took multiple trains from Georgia to Philadelphia, successfully escaping to their freedom. Smithsonian magazine wrote an article on their story. I encourage you to read it.
The Negro Motorist Green Book, or Green Books as they were often referred to as, was used by Black families when the needed to travel through segregated America. The Green Book was created by Victor Green, each book had a state by state list of accommodations that would house everyone. My grandmother says she remembers using Green Books as a young child when her family travels. In my copy some states, like Texas, are not even listed in the index.
I noticed that some of the states not listed just so happened to be the same states that Blacks migrated from during the Great Migration (1917-70). On the map I painted those states a dark navy, the mid range blue states are the more neutral states, and the brightest colored states are were Black families migrated to.
This is me on my last day of working for the Smithsonian. Out of all the many jobs that I have had over the years, working for SAAM (Smithsonian American Art Museum) has been the best and most eye opening job. I have known for a while know that I want to work in museums, in fact I’ve decided that I want to help change museums so that they can have more events and exhibits that are more diverse and inclusive. Now, working for SAAM was not my first time working at a museum. In fact two years ago I worked for a local museum in Fort Worth, and that was fun but I didn’t learn as much there as I did at SAAM.
Working in an art museum, especially in the education department, challenged me to think about in a different direction. Since I am an Art Education major I have been taught how to think like and artist and a teacher, which is great and helped me with my internship, but at SAAM they pushed me to take that thinking to a new level. The goal is to not just show people art and recite information to them, but it’s to really help them connect to the art and the artist in ways that relate to their real lives. I’m not trying to say that art teachers don’t do that, but this was at a different level.
For my internship I had a mentor and she taught me a lot. She introduced me to new teaching and thinking styles that I can’t wait to show everyone here in Texas and she did everything that she could to give me a chance. I learned and modeled my work along the lines of this learning method from Harvard called Project Zero. In general, Project Zero is about give people the chance the tools needed to see how they are thinking. It’s about knowing how and why you got to the answer. The work I did for SAAm required me to think about learning in an art museum in a different way. Since I’ve been back and started the school year, I have noticed that I’m still thinking that way.
Another aspect about working for an art museum is that I I could talk art history with people. That’s not to say I can’t do that at home, but it was different there. At school and in the art department, unless someone is an art history major, a professor, of a studio art major (and even then it’s kind of a push) no one wants to take art history with me. But thing with SAAM was that, we had to talk art history. In order to tell people about the works you had to know the background behind them, the artist and the time it came from. Without that knowledge you were screwed. I learned a ton about American art and figured out along the way that, out of all the art in the world, I like American art a bit better. Maybe I’ll write something later to go in deeper explanation of that but the just of it is that, there is more to American art. It’s not all the same even if the subject is. There is literally so much to American art, especially in contemporary craft, that I know I what I learned didn’t even break the surface.
Long story short, working at SAAM for two and a half months was a game changer and eye opening. I like and want to do in-gallery work in the future so I can really communicate and work with the general public; I want to work with American art because there is just so much to it; I am going to keep using the new mind set and thinking skills that I learned while there; and I want to make better art. Being surrounded by works from people who are considered so important that they have to be apart of the Smithsonian collection has given me the push that I think I needed. I need to take more time with what I’m making, consider all the directions I can go and just emerge myself in the process. I don’t necessarily want to have my work placed in a museum, but I would love to work in one again.
Last month, as many people know, was Black History Month. In honor of that I created a Jacob Lawrence Project (link to original post) for my students and y’all, it was a success!
Not only did my student really enjoy the project, they also took the subject matter seriously and asked questions. I am supper proud and excited for how they’ll take the rest of my projects for the remaining school year.
The objective of the lesson was for the class to use pictures from the Civil Rights movement and paint them in in the style of Jacob Lawrence’s The Migration Series. The only catch was that they had to include colored paper somewhere in their project, making it a sort of collage. The results of this project have made me so proud! Here are some pictures of some of the pieces compared to the original.
This project was very opened ended and I was amazed by how each student decided to approach there task. It was also interesting to see how some of them started. Most painted parts of the picture first (we used tempera paint and acrylic so it dried fast) and then added the paper. There was a handful of kids that did the complete opposite. I also think that the minimalist aspect of this project really gave them more range to work with. Its always interesting to see what you will get when you tell children to just go for it.
For Black History Month, I’ve decided to teach my students about Jacob Lawrence. He is one of my favorite artists and he’s Migration Series touches on a topic that I’ve noticed not a lot of school books talk about.
For those of you that don’t know, the Great Migration (1916-1970) was the relocation of 6 million African Americans from the rural South to the Urban North.
There was a call for industrial workers in the North because of World War I and many wanted to escape the Reconstruction of the Civil War in the South. Unfortunately, many migrants still dealt with violent racism and discrimination in the North.
Jacob Lawrence created a 60 panel series called The Migration Series (1940-41) that depicted what African Americans went through. For this month’s art project I’m having my students great mixed media paintings using construction paper and acrylic paint. In the style of Jacob Lawrence, they will be recreating pictures from the Civil Rights movement.
I taught to the first group on Friday and they all seemed to enjoy the process. My goal with this lesson is to actually to my students about an important moment in history that some people thing should down played. Not talking about things such as slavery, the civil war, rasicm and all the terrible things that happened does no good for anyone.
Do not forget these people. Do not edit or hide this part of history. We need to remember it so we don’t make the same mistakes and so we can learn from the ones we’ve made.