Saturday, February 20, 2016

Just a Little Henry Ossawa Tanner Over Here

If you've been reading my blog for a while, you'll recognize the lesson I stole gratefully received from my friend, Keeli, where fifth graders make necklaces based on quilt patterns that some believe were used along the Underground Railroad. That lesson always turns out well, but there's almost always some difficulty along the way.  This year, I decided to lead the students on a what-happened-after-all-those-people-were-freed lesson in art history, which brought us to (among others) Henry Ossawa Tanner.  I'll be honest with you adults, [at least I assume you're adults if you're reading an art teacher blog] I knew of Henry Ossawa Tanner before this, but I didn't really know much.  And his art is beautiful in that romantic/realism sort of way that makes me yawn a bit. I have a copy of "The Banjo Lesson" that I've put up in my classroom in the past, but I wasn't a fan of his work.  Big mistake on my part, because Mr. Ossawa Tanner was pretty awesome. Among other things, his parents gave him the middle name of Ossawa in homage to John Brown, a white abolitionist who killed pro-slavery people in Osawatamie, Kansas.  John Brown's [failed] attempt to arm all the slaves in Virginia is basically the beginning of the Civil War.  John Brown was hanged in 1859, Henry Ossawa Tanner was born in 1859, and goes on from there.  It's an amazing story, and if you follow the strands it's really fascinating.  My students ate it up.  We took notes on Mr. Tanner, Romare Bearden, Faith Ringgold and Barbara Chase-Riboud and then began drawing for a painting in the style of Henry.  Students had to draw (and later paint) a picture that tells a story without words:

Although I (rather unfairly) added a writing bit after they thought they were all done.  I use "When I did this project, I learned:" sentence starter sheets often with second grade on up, but I added "Something I want you to know about my artwork:" for fifth grade.  The student who did the above artwork wrote this:

I was very pleased with the variety of work and explanations:

I forgot to photograph his writing, but if I remember correctly he wrote
NOTHING about Henry Ossawa Tanner and lots about military ships.  

There was lots of interest in painting sunsets in one class:

And a real religious theme in another:

I was very interested in learning about the life and work of Henry Ossawa Tanner, as were my students, and I can't wait to see what sort of things they make in response to Romare Bearden.

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