Back to previous page


Post Most

At the Phillips Collection, fifth-graders have something in common with great artists

By — Moira E. McLaughlin,

What do Pierre-Auguste Renoir, Henri Matisse, Georgia O’Keeffe and Monique Matthews’s fifth-grade class from Takoma Education Campus in Washington have in common?

They’re all artists whose work hangs at the Phillips Collection, an art museum in Washington.

‘Go West!’

The fifth-grade class was part of a Phillips program called Art Links to Learning: Museum-in-Residence. Kids from pre-kindergarten to fifth grade from Takoma Education Campus and Tyler Elementary School in Washington participate in the program, which started in 2006, every year.

READ MORE: What art is, just for kids

The idea is to combine art with something that the kids already are learning about in class. This year’s themes include space exploration, the solar system, animals and habitats. The 19 fifth-graders from Takoma Education Campus painted three pictures, all with the theme “Go West.” They have been studying about how Americans in the middle and late 1800s traveled across the country from the east (where you live now) to the west, to states including California and Oregon.

“My part was painting the wagon and the blood” on the buffalo, said Kelia Smith, 10.

The class decided the three pictures would each tell a slightly different story: The first painting shows people preparing to leave their homes, the second shows people on the journey and the third shows people arriving at their destination.

The students divided themselves into three groups, and each group worked on one painting. Then they sketched out, or drew, what they wanted to paint. Then they decided which colors to use and assigned each other objects to paint. It took them about a week to finish.

‘The Migration Series’

But before the class could put their brushes to paper, they needed a little bit of inspiration. They headed to the Phillips Collection and discovered some works by an artist named Jacob Lawrence. He created a group of 60 paintings in 1940-1941 called “The Migration Series.” Lawrence’s work shows African Americans in the 1920s and ’30s moving from the southern part of the United States, where people lived on farms, to the northern part of the country, where they lived in cities. The students had a lot in common with Lawrence. They too wanted to show people moving from one place to another.

So the students asked themselves questions about Lawrence: How did he communicate his message? What kind of detail did he paint? How did he paint the people? What colors did he use?

Finding inspiration

“Looking at other people’s paintings gives me ideas about what I want to paint,” said Kelia, who wants to be an artist when she grows up. Lucky for her, though, that she doesn’t have to wait to see her art hanging in a real gallery. The three paintings she and her classmates created will be at the Phillips through March 3. They are labeled with the name of the artwork and who made it, just like all the other artists’ work in the gallery.

“I’m amazed!” Kelia said about having her art at the Phillips.

IFYOU GO: See the artwork at the Phillips

— Moira E. McLaughlin

© The Washington Post Company