On September 15th, 2020 was International Dot Day. It is named for the classic Peter H. Reynolds storybook "The Dot". Our family celebrated this special day by doing an Alma Thomas inspired art activity. Alma Thomas (1891-1978) was a black woman artist. Her work lends itself ideally to talk about color theory as well as expressionism in art.
Before getting creative, we looked at some of the later paintings by Alma Thomas. We talked about the interesting way the artist used shapes and colors to create veritable mosaics on paper. My kids were immediately inspired by her pictures and ready to get started with their own.
You do not need any special materials for the project. I still had some cotton canvas and acrylic paint left, so I handed them out for this project. It is, however, equally fine to use regular art paper and tempera paint if that is what you have. The project might even work with watercolors – after all Alma Thomas started out with watercolors – but the pictures will be less bright.
I decided to give the kids minimal instructions and just let them be creative. Instead, I displayed examples of Alma Thomas’ art throughout the project and let them be freely inspired and draw their own interpretations of the artist’s work. As you can see, some adopted the circular patterns while others were inspired by the vertical lines. One kid even let go of the mosaic character and drew some (Kandinsky-like) concentric circles. In the end, every kid was happy with the outcome and the pictures will make some great new decorations for their rooms.
Music is an important element of our creative family life. We all play at least one instrument and we love to listen to all kinds of music. I like to introduce my kids to composers and their music in a holistic way. Thus, right from the very beginning of our homeschool journey, I started the tradition of “monthly composers”. Every month, we choose a composer – sometimes per individual request of a family member, sometimes based on a topic or epoque we are covering in school. We then read and talk about the composer’s life and style and try to listen to his/her music daily. After a while, we start to see patterns and connect specific pieces to a particular composer. There is no better way to train young ears!
This month, our school activities evolved around self-identity and racism. So I looked for classical composers of color and found a great article on Black Composers. I was embarrassed to realize that I had not heard of most of these great artists. It was difficult to choose our composer of the month from so many great options. In the end, I opted for Joseph Bologne, Chevalier de Saint-Georges (1745-1799) who lived around the same time as Mozart. Saint-Georges or the “Black Mozart” was the son of a wealthy plantation owner and one of his slaves. He had a successful music career in Europe. In fact, at his time, Saint-Georges was even more popular than Mozart. And Mozart tried to retaliate by creating the intimidating and mean character Monostatos in his now very popular opera The Magic Flute. Talk about a classical example of racism!
Nowadays, the situation has reversed: Mozart is popular and known not only among classical music connoisseurs. Saint-Georges, however, has been almost completely forgotten – none of my musical friends had ever heard of him! So why is this? I think that this may be – again – a consequence of racial bias. Therefore, I encourage you to listen to some of Saint-Georges’ pieces and bring the first classical composer of African origin back into the classical music repertoire of today!