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November/December 2002
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It's Not Just a Picture!
by Linda C. Joseph, Columbus (Ohio) Public Schools, Library of Congress 
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Advertisements flash on the television screen, each image no longer than 3 seconds. Students look at a photograph, illustration, or painting for about the same amount of time and nonchalantly comment, "It's just a picture." But wait, upon further inspection and some guided inquiry, the pictures soon come alive and tell a story. Some of the stories are historical, some personal, some made up. These stories behind the images bring rich context to the viewer who might be prompted to conduct further investigation. You never know what you may learn or the mysteries that may unfold until you dig deeper. Let's examine people as they are depicted in paintings, posters, and photographs and discover their stories.

PAINTINGS

Early American Paintings in the Worcester Museum

Don't miss this splendid display of portrait art that encompasses all of the paintings in the museum's collection that were created prior to 1830 by artists who were either born or active in America, including works painted abroad by those artists. Many of the artists are not well known, but the variety and quality are superb. The portraits are full of interesting details for the careful observer. There are several entry points to the collection, including timeline, artist, genre, place of origin, and a search box.

National Gallery of Art

Explore exhibitions and collections online. Of special interest to teachers are the online resources complete with activities and supporting materials for in-depth study of artists such as van Gogh, Vermeer, Mary Cassatt, and Henri Matisse. There are many nooks and crannies to discover, including British Conversation Pieces and Portraits of the 1700s, Seventeenth-Century French Painting, and Italian Painting of the Sixteenth-Century.

National Portrait Gallery

Visiting the National Portrait Gallery is like walking into an art gallery that appears endless. Both paintings and photography are represented in their vast collections. Highlights at this site include a clever exhibit of Mathew Brady's works; A Brush with History, which features paintings of heroes, writers, statesmen, inventors, educators, musicians, artists, and scientists of America's past; and A Durable Memento: Portraits by Augustus Washington, African American Daguerreotypist. Each collection contains a wealth of background information.

Why Is the Mona Lisa Smiling?

Did Leonardo da Vinci paint himself as the "Mona Lisa"? This is a fascinating theory and one that should be an attention-grabber. Check out the animation where the two images are merged together and read the details of how Dr. Lillian Schwartz of Bell Labs came to her conclusion. Then, you be the judge.

POSTERS AND ILLUSTRATIONS

Good-Bye Jim

James Whitcomb Riley was a prolific Indiana poet. His folksy rhymes reflected the culture of the era. Many of his poems were illustrated. One of Riley's works, "Good-Bye Jim," was a popular Civil War poem illustrated by Howard Chandler Christy. This Web site includes the poem and a few of the illustrations. This would be a great tie-in to the study of the Civil War or language arts.

Norman Rockwell Museum

Norman Rockwell was one of the most prolific and beloved illustrators of the 20th century. His depictions of small-town life adorned the front cover of The Saturday Evening Post for years. At this site you will find his famous four freedoms, illustrating the social order for which World War II was being fought. In addition, there are examples of illustrations and how to interpret them under Eye Openers. Teachers can download a free resource packet.

Powers of Persuasion: Poster Art from World War II

Greeting you as you enter the page is the famous Montgomery Flagg poster, "I Want You!," created for World War I and revived for World War II. The exhibit is divided into two parts: One depicts the patriotic sense of duty and the strength of the nation. The other shows the high stakes and human cost of war. Have your students compare and contrast the colors, symbols, shading, and other techniques that were used in these posters. Have them write about which poster affects them the most and why. You might also have them write from the perspective of a person living during that time period.

PHOTOGRAPHY

America's First Look at the Camera: Daguerreotype Portraits and Views, 1839-1864

Portrait daguerreotypes produced by the Mathew Brady studio make up the major portion of this collection of 725 daguerreotypes. The collection also includes early portraits by pioneering daguerreotypist Robert Cornelius, studio portraits by black photographers James P. Ball and Francis Grice, and copies of painted portraits. In addition, there is a timeline of the daguerreotype era, the process, and a glossary of terms.

America from the Great Depression to World War II: Photographs from the FSA-OWI, 1935-1945

Because of the economic situation during this time period, a new government agency, the Farm Security Administration, was created to help farmers. Photographers were hired into the program as part of the New Deal Era. Their job was to inform the public about the poverty in this country and the increased need to help people. Walker Evans was the first photographer, followed by Dorthea Lange, who had been doing the same kind of work in California. There were 98 photographers over the course of the project. These photographs depicting the lives of ordinary people form an extensive pictorial record of American life between 1935 and 1945. The collection contains approximately 107,000 black-and-white photographic prints, 164,000 black-and-white film negatives, and 1,610 color transparencies.

South Texas Border, Photographs from the Robert Runyon Collection, 1900-1920

Robert Runyon was a commercial studio photographer. His collection of over 8,000 photographs documents life around the lower Rio Grande Valley during the early 1900s. There are many portraits of children and families representing the diverse cultures from that region. He also photographed school groups, sports teams, and the numerous excursion groups that came to Brownsville in the early 1920s as potential participants in the Valley land boom.


Be sure to visit the MultiMedia Schools Home Page (http://www.infotoday.com/MMSchools) with active links to all of the Web sites mentioned in this article. Then fly over to CyberBee (http://www.cyberbee.com) for more curriculum ideas, research tools, and activities to use with your students and staff. 

LESSONS AND GUIDES

Creative Portraits

In this lesson, Object Observation is followed to study the genre of portraiture. The method is applied to the Carl Van Vechten photographic portraits of celebrities (Creative Americans: Portraits by Carl Van Vechten 1932-1964). The photograph used for this exercise is one of Billie Holiday. Students first describe the forms and structures and the arrangement of the variouselements, avoiding personal feelings or interpretations so that someone who has not seen the image is able to visualize it.Then they describe their personal feelings, associations, and judgments about the image. This is an excellent activity to use with middle and high school students.

Document Analysis Worksheets—National Archives

The National Archives provides a series of worksheets that serve as blueprints in analyzing and interpreting various types of primary sources. These sources include written document, photograph, cartoon, poster, map, artifact, sound recording, and motion picture.

Snap the Whip Lesson

Using the work of Winslow Homer's "Snap the Whip" as a focal point, this unit explores the themes of human relationships through "School Days" and "Children Games." The goals of the unit are to have students look back through time in terms of historical events and everyday life of the 19th century. This is a comprehensive unit that includes standards and assessments.

Taking Great Pictures

From taking better pictures to candid shots of pets, Kodak has created a winning site for the amateur photographer. There are tutorials, links to resources, and a center for learning about digital photography. You may also want to explore an archive of photo tips or take a nostalgic journey through the Brownie Camera @100 exhibit.

What Do You See?— Library of Congress Learning Page

Activities for all age levels help students to analyze photographs. Begin by looking closely at a panoramic view of a 1909 train wreck near Farmer City, Illinois. Who are the people? What happened? When did it happen? Are there other photographs? Have your students be eyewitness reporters and write a story about the event. Younger students will have fun with the match the pictures game, create a picture puzzle, and what is in the picture. A photo analysis guide is provided to aid students in their quest for knowledge.

LEGACY OF STORIES

Now that your students know how to interpret images and that it's more than just a picture, have them create their own works of art. Whether they illustrate a poster, paint, or take a photograph, they will be creating a legacy of stories for the next generation.

Be sure to visit the MultiMedia Schools home page [http://www.infotoday.com/MMSchools] with active links to all of the Web sites mentioned in this article. Then fly over to CyberBee [http://www.cyberbee.com] for more curriculum ideas, research tools, and activities to use with your students and staff.

Resources and Web Site addresses 

Paintings


Early American Paintings in the Worcester Museum

http://www.worcesterart.org/Collection/Early_American/

National Gallery of Art

http://www.nga.gov/

National Portrait Gallery

http://www.npg.si.edu/

Why Is the Mona Lisa Smiling?

http://library.thinkquest.org/13681/data/davin2.shtml

Posters and Illustrations


Good-Bye Jim

http://www.jameswhitcombriley.com/new_page_1.htm

Norman Rockwell Museum

http://www.nrm.org/

Powers of Persuasion: Poster Art from World War II

http://www.archives.gov/exhibit_hall/powers_of_persuasion/powers_of_persuasion_home.html

Photography


America's First Look at the Camera: Daguerreotype Portraits and Views, 1839-1864

http://memory.loc.gov/ammem/daghtml/daghome.html

America from the Great Depression to World War II: Photographs from the FSA-OWI, 1935-1945

http://memory.loc.gov/ammem/fsowhome.html

Creative Americans: Portraits by Carl Van Vechten, 1932-1964

South Texas Border, Photographs from the Robert Runyon Collection, 1900-1920

http://memory.loc.gov/ammem/award97/txuhtml/runyhome.html

Lessons and Guides


Creative Portraits

http://memory.loc.gov/ammem/ndlpedu/educators/workshop/portraits/ pover.html

Document Analysis Worksheets—National Archives

http://www.archives.gov/digital_classroom/lessons/analysis_worksheets/worksheets.html

Snap the Whip Lesson

http://www.fsus.fsu.edu/EducationCurriculum/chats/KateSullivan/SnaptheWhip/

Taking Great Pictures

http://www.kodak.com/US/en/nav/takingPics.shtml

What Do You See?—Library of Congress

http://memory.loc.gov/ammem/ndlpedu/educators/workshop/discover/yousee.html

Linda Joseph is the author of Net Curriculum: An Educator's Guide to Using the Internet, published by CyberAge Books. The recipient of numerous awards, in addition to her work in the Columbus Public Schools and the Library of Congress, Linda is a part-time instructor for Ohio State University. Communications to the author may be addressed to her at Columbus Public Schools, 737 East Hudson Street, Columbus, OH 43211; phone 614/365-5277; e-mail: ljoseph@iwaynet.net.
 

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