Art History for Kids

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Art in Action’s Fifth Grade curriculum focuses on American art. From colonial times to Pop Art, students explore how artists depict different periods in American history by creating their own prints, sculptures and paintings.  Artists like Winslow Homer, Faith Ringgold, William Harnett, and Ruth Asawa helped to shape this country’s art movements. Here are five moments from America’s art history timeline to share with your students.

1. The earliest colonial artists were sign painters who painted for small town shopkeepers. They painted decorations on carriages, clock faces, fire screens, and other everyday items. In the late 1600s, these colonial artists became known as Limners. The word “limner” means “one who draws or paints,”. andIt comes from the Latin word illuminare (, “to make light.”).

2. During the Civil War, Winslow Homer (1836-1910) was asked to record war events. He didn’t like to draw battle scenes, however, so his sketches are mainly of soldier life in the camps. One of his most famous drawings shows Abraham Lincoln standing in front of his army tent.

3. William Harnett (1853-1890) began his art career as a silver engraver, a trade that taught him to work carefully and use fine detail., b Harnett eforethen switcheding to painting still-life compositions in the trompe l’oeil (“fool the eye”) style, which gives the appearance of 3-D realism.

4. Sculptor Ruth Asawa (1926-2013) was a strong advocate for the arts in schools. Still running today is the art program she started at Alvarado Elementary School in 1968. She was also instrumental in building a public high school for the arts, now called The Ruth Asawa San Francisco School of the Arts.

5. Faith Ringgold (1930) started her artistic career as a painter, but she is best known for her quilts, which combine painting, fabric, and storytelling. She has written and illustrated 11 children’s books, including Tar Beach and Aunt Harriet’s Underground Railroad in the Sky.