Category Archives: American art

Lost and Found, The Icebergs by Frederick Edwin Church

How could The Icebergs, a 5-foot tall and 9-foot wide painting, be lost for nearly a hundred years?    In plain sight! That’s how.

Read on to:

  • Find helpful vocabulary
  • Learn a little about Frederick Edwin Church
  • Learn the story of this once lost masterpiece
  • See activities to help you and your children explore and enjoy The Icebergs
  • A cute photo of Molly, the Artsy Corgi

Vocabulary

These words, which will be in bold green the first time they come up, will help you and your children talk more easily about different parts of a painting.

  • landscape a painting of land, trees, etc. may have some people and buildings, but these aren’t the focus
  • sketch a quick, non-detailed drawing or painting that artists use as studies for more finished works
  • foreground, middle ground, background art words for the front, middle, and back parts of a painting.
  • Horizon where the land or water meets the sky

The Artist

Frederick Edwin Church, (1826-1900) was one of the very few students of Thomas Cole, founder of the Hudson River School of landscape artists. (check out other posts I’ve written about the Hudson River artists)

Like others in the group, Church first painted landscapes along the Hudson River and in other rural areas of New York and New England. In 1857 he hit fame with his 7-foot-wide painting of the Horseshoe Falls of Niagara. Water rushing away from the bottom edge of the painting (which was set at floor level) makes viewers like they’re about to tumble over the falls. Church exhibited Niagara by itself in a gallery in NYC and thousands paid 25 cents to sit in front of it and view the rainbow, mist, and foaming waters.

Church’s interest in science and exploration soon took him to South America to climb mountains and trudge through tropical rain forests,

Heart of the Andes by Frederick Edwin Church, Metropolitan Museum of Art, NYC, public domain

to Italy and Greece to study ancient ruins, and to the Middle East to ride camels to reach the fabled city of Petra.

El Khasne, Petra by Frederick Edwin Church, Olana State Historical Site, public domain

From pencil and oil sketches in these places, he painted huge landscape masterpieces.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

For The Icebergs, Church chartered a small sailing ship for a month-long summer expedition to the waters off the coasts of Newfoundland and Labrador. From the ship he used a rowboat to get closer to the icebergs so he could do pencil and oil sketches. The sailors thought he was crazy to go so close.

The Painting

The Icebergs by Frederick Edwin Church, Dallas Museum of Art, public domain

Church finished the final Icebergs painting and displayed it before crowds in NYC and Boston, just as he had Niagara. But the Civil War had just begun, and Church couldn’t find a buyer for the huge painting, so he sent it to be exhibited in London. After its successful exhibit, a businessman from Manchester, England bought The Icebergs and installed it in his country estate.

The estate was bought and sold many times over the years, eventually becoming the property of the City of Manchester. At different times the city used the house for a hospital and an orphanage. By 1978 it was a detention home for boys. Except for a short stay at a church that gave it back, The Icebergs remained with the property all those years, because no one knew its true worth. Though many art experts wondered what had happened to the painting, it hung dusty and forgotten, but in plain view, on a little-used stairway.

Then in 1978, the home’s administrator decided to sell the painting to raise a little money to buy some land. Suddenly the world rediscovered Church’s masterpiece. And it didn’t just raise a little money, it sold for 2.5 million dollars at auction (setting a record for American paintings) to an anonymous buyer who donated it to the Dallas Museum of Art, where it remains today, welcoming visitors to the American Art wing.

Activities to Help You and Your Children further Explore The Icebergs

Before doing any other activities, ask children to tell what’s going on in the painting and what tells them that. Enhance their observational and verbal skills by rephrasing words and adding new vocabulary.

  • Help them notice how the foreground ice formation frames the iceberg in the middle ground.
  • Point out how Church has highlighted that middle ground iceberg with sunlight.
  • Encourage them to look way into the background at the distant horizon to see more icebergs.

Though we might expect a painting of icebergs to be mostly white, Church’s interest in science as well as his artistic training, helped him look carefully to see many colors reflected in the towering icebergs.

A friend of Church, who was a pastor, wrote this description of what he saw as he accompanied Church in the rowboat, “the steepled icebergs ,a vast metropolis in ice, pearly white and red as roses glittering in the sunset.” Pastor Louis Noble.

Go to this link to The Icebergs at the Dallas Art Museum and enlarge and scan around the painting,

  • Encourage children to see the details. Have them call out or write down the colors they see.
  • Older children might enjoy coming up with similes for the different colors and textures they see. For example, parts of the iceberg look like peaks of white frosting.

Before You Go

If you’d like more activity ideas for art, history, and nature, curriculum connections, and links to more resources, be sure to sign up for my newsletter and receive a free guide to 5 Ways Art Benefits Children’s Cognitive, Physical, Spiritual, and Social Development, with a Few Fun and Easy Activities for each Benefit

Visit my website where you’ll find free downloadable puzzles, how-to-draw pages and coloring pages for kids and an updated list of my hands-on workshops, chapels, and presentations for all ages. Add link

Pictures of Molly

Molly and I took some photos on a cold day here in Colorado a few days ago. It was so cold that frost and snow froze instantly on every surface! We hope you enjoy them

And we hope you enjoy this first post in a series about Frederick Edwin Church. Next week we’ll have a devotion based on the painting or Church’s life and work.

If you’re new to my blog, this is what you’ll usually find in each month-long series. One post will come each week, usually followed by a newsletter the last week:

Post 1 will engage your children’s minds in art appreciation activities. with background information about the artist and artwork with pictures and links for you.  Then I’ll give you some kid-friendly activities to help you and your children enjoy and appreciate the artwork.

Post 2 will engage your children’s hearts in a kid-friendly devotion based on the artwork.

Post 3 will engage children’s hands in an art activity based on the artwork. There are always suggestions to make the activities doable for a range of ages.

Post 4 may be related books to read or an interview with a children’s author. I include picture books as well as middle grade books.

In my end-of-month newsletter, you’ll find lots of ideas and links to help you make connections to other subjects related to the month’s artwork and artist. I hope this format will help you with games, lessons, and activities to engage your children’s minds, hearts, and hands in learning about and enjoying art.

Winslow Homer, Versatile Illustrator, Wartime Artist-Correspondent, and Seascape Painter

Long before he became known for his seascapes, Winslow Homer was a magazine illustrator. He also spent the 4 long years of the Civil War as a wartime artist and correspondent.

After the war, like most Americans, Homer wanted to put the tragedies of war behind him, get back to normal life, and look ahead to the future. What better way than to show children involved in everyday activities such as school?

In 1871 Winslow Homer painted The Country School, showing a moment in the day of a teacher and her students at a rural one-room school.

Before we look at the painting, let me explain that I usually do 4-part series about an artist and his or her work–one series per month. Starting this month you’ll receive one weekly post. Most will follow this format:

  • Post 1: a short bio of an artist and 1 or 2 fun ways to enjoy the artwork with your children
  • Post 2: a kid-friendly devotion related to the painting
  • Post 3: an art activity related to the painting
  • Post 4: an interview with a children’s author or reviews of books for children and other activities. These may or may not be related to the artwork.

For those who have been reading my blog for a while, the content hasn’t really changed. It’s just spread out over 4 weekly posts. (December and the summer months are usually exceptions to this format).

So here in Post 1 you’ll find:

  • A short bio of Winslow Homer
  • Activities to help you and your children enjoy and understand The Country School  (You don’t have to do them all. Pick the ones that fit you and your children)

The Artist, Winslow Homer

Homer was born in Massachusetts in 1836, and grew up in a rural area near Boston. He preferred outdoor activities to school but did have an interest in art. He first learned art skills from his mother, who was an accomplished watercolor artist. After high school Homer apprenticed to a printer, then began free-lance illustrating for magazines. He specialized in scenes of everyday life and people.

When the Civil War began Harper’s Weekly sent Homer to the front as an artist- correspondent. Homer’s sketches of battles and camp life helped people at home understand the life of a soldier. After the war, Homer turned some of his sketches into oil paintings which won awards and took him to Paris for a year.

Back home Homer continued painting ordinary people at the seashore,

Long Branch, New Jersey by Winslow Homer, 1869,Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, public domain

in the mountains, and on farms, as well as school scenes and the life of former slaves. He decided to return to Europe and spent 2 years living and painting in a small fishing village in England.

When Homer returned to America, he moved to the coast of Maine, where he lived and painted for the rest of his life. His studio still sits above rocky cliffs on a point that juts out into the Atlantic.

That’s the point as seen from across a tidal river. This is the gentler side of the point. The rocky cliffs are on the other side.

In Maine Homer painted his famous scenes of sea rescues and storm-tossed waves.

Sunlight on the Coast by Winslow Homer, 1890, Toledo Museum of Art, Ohio, public domain

During Maine’s cold winters, Homer often traveled south, painting marine watercolors that glow with light and color.

Homer took a few art lessons, but was mostly self-taught. He closely observed his subjects, whether people or landscapes. One time he walked backwards all the way home from a store so he could study a sunset. For his marine paintings, Homer carefully studied how the waves rolled in and broke on the rocks below his studio. He once said he didn’t like painting the ocean when it was too calm, likening it to a duck pond.

The Painting, The Country School

The Country School by Winslow Homer, 1871, St. Louis Museum of Art, public domain

In art a genre scene captures a moment in the life of ordinary people. The people in these scenes don’t pose, but go about their activities as if the artist isn’t there. A genre painting might show a young woman gathering eggs, or a farmer reaping grain.

Gathering Eggs by Winslow Homer, 1874, National Gallery of Art, Wash. D.C., public domain

The Reaper by Winslow Homer, 1878, public domain

 

Homer’s genre scenes of everyday life and people are warm and realistic. And although his career spanned the era of Impressionism, and he, too, filled his scenes with light, Homer didn’t dissolve the edges of people or objects, as the Impressionists did.

 

 

 

 

Activities to help you and your children enjoy and understand The Country School

Here’s a link to the St. Louis Art Museum where The Country School painting lives. Here you can enlarge the painting and move around it with your mouse.

Before doing any other activities, ask children to tell what’s going on in the painting and what tells them that. Enhance their observational and verbal skills by rephrasing words and adding new vocabulary. Here are a few things to help the discussion.

In The Country School, it’s as if we’re standing in the school’s doorway, looking in at a moment in the day of a teacher and her students. So, let’s do that. At first glance we see light streaming in the windows of a one-room school house onto the desks of girls on one side and boys on the other, with a teacher in the center.

Take your time. The blackboard naturally draws our eyes. Because it frames the teacher, we notice this calm and serious young woman right away. Even though her dress is also black, her white apron and bright face make her stand out against the black. She’s what is called the focal point or most important part of the painting.

The teacher’s gaze takes us to the boys, who are reading aloud. Did the little girl’s red sweater catch your eye? Homer used red on purpose so your eyes don’t get “stuck” with the boys. He wants you to look around and notice other details. Artists often use bright colors in this way, so let’s go on a scavenger hunt to find and talk about some of those details.

How many of these things can you find?

  • A straw hat; whose is it?
  • A girl in a red sweater
  • The boy with a hole in the knee of his pants
  • All the girls with striped socks
  • 2 metal cans or pails on a desk, do you think these might be lunch pails?
  • slates; these look a little like modern tablets, but are like small blackboards
  • the slate on a bench with its attached writing tool hanging off the bench
  • A bunch of flowers in a glass vase
  • Another big bunch of flowers; who probably picked these?
  • The flower that’s fallen on the floor
  • sunshine making patterns on a curtain; what’s creating the pattern?
  • 2 ink bottles; imagine having to write without a computer or ballpoint pens!
  • A Bible; even public school teachers could read from the Bible in class at that time!
  • A bell; what’s it used for?
  • All the high black boots
  • 2 barefoot boys
  • A little boy who’s crying
  • 2 girls sharing a book

This is also a great painting to spark discussion and stories. Here are some questions to get everyone talking:

  • Why do you think the girls and boys are on opposite sides of the classroom?
  • Everyone is reading together. Follow the teacher’s gaze to see who is reading aloud.
  • Do the children look interested and attentive?
  • Why do you think the little boy is crying?  This could be a good story-starter.
  • Describe the clothing and hairstyles of the girls and boys. Do these children look wealthy?

Digging Deeper

Here are more ideas for discussion and/or written assignments:

The Country School by Winslow Homer, 1871, St. Louis Museum of Art, public domain

  • What are some ways this classroom is like and unlike today’s?  Do you see any posters on the walls? What are the desks and chairs like? This would be a good way to spark interest in researching schools of the 1800s and writing a list or short essay comparing and contrasting schools then and now.
  • Children could also research clothing styles and foods of the time.
  • What are some of the sounds you would hear in this classroom?  (don’t forget the bell!!) Is it mostly quiet or loud?
  • Write an acrostic poem using the letters from Country School to describe the sights and sound and smells of this classroom. Then write one about your present-day classroom.
  • Choose one of these boys and imagine the chores he may have to do when he gets home from school. Then tell what he likes to do for fun.
  • Choose one of the girls and write about her days as if she’s writing in her diary.

Winslow Homer has used careful observation to show us many things about The Country School and its teacher and students. Molly and I hope you’ll enjoy looking carefully to find all the details about the life of school children in the late 1800s.

Here’s Molly, the artsy corgi, enjoying the painting! Maybe in that second photo she can smell the lunches !!

If you write a poem or have any comments about The Country School, be sure to share them in the comment section.

We hope you’ll come back next week for a short devotion based on the painting.

Before You Go

If you’d like more activity ideas for art, history, and nature, curriculum connections, and links to more resources, be sure to sign up for my newsletter. Just click the sign-up  button above on the right. You’ll receive a free guide to making art museum visits a fun masterpiece for your whole family. Even if your family isn’t into museums, the quarterly issues have lots of fun stuff for kiddos!

Visit my website where you’ll find free downloadable puzzles, how-to-draw pages, and coloring pages. There’s also an updated list of my hands-on workshops, chapels, and presentations for all ages.