This week we are welcoming Cindy from The Art Curator for Kids. Cindy is taking us through American History via art while talking about L is for Landscapes of the American West.
In the 1800s, American felt a great pull to explore the American west. Many Americans believed in an idea called Manifest Destiny which was the idea that it was their duty, set forth by God, to colonize America all the way to the Pacific ocean. Art played a big role in the exploration of the American West–specifically photographs and landscape painting.
I’m going to write this post like I would teaching a lesson about it. It is like a script. When you are ready to teach this to your kids, you can use the below as an outline for your lesson.
The Role of Landscape Painting in the American West
In 1871, Dr. Ferdinand Hayden led an expedition to explore Yellowstone for the U.S. Geological Survey in 1871. One of the main goals of this expedition was to document Yellowstone and then come back and make a case to Congress to protect the land as a national park.
–> What do you think Dr. Hayden needed to bring with him on his journey? Who do you think he invited to come? What types of people would he need to help help him?
Dr. Hayden decided to bring along artists as a part of his expedition crew.
–> Why do you think he thought it important bring artists with him?
In order to best document the land, Hayden brought along both a photographer (William Henry Jackson) and a painter (Thomas Moran).
–> Why do you think it was important to have both a photographer and a painter? What can a painter provide that a photographer cannot?
Here are two views of the same spot by William Henry Jackson and Thomas Moran.
–> Compare and contrast these two scenes together. How are they similar and how are they different?
Jackson as a photographer could document things as they were with his black and white camera, which proved to the people of the East that the stories from the West were not made up. However, his photographs couldn’t capture the brilliant colors and beautiful atmosphere of this new place.
This is where Thomas Moran came in. Thomas Moran painted huge, stunning landscape paintings of the scenes he saw out west. He would use Jackson’s photographs, sketches and watercolor paintings, and his memory to paint these beautiful landscapes when he returned home back East.
Isn’t it just stunning? Spend some time looking slowly at this artwork with your children. Use these tips to help you talk about art with your kids.
–> How do you think these paintings made the people back east feel?
–> After seeing this evidence, do you think Congress voted to preserve Yellowstone?
After this discussion, have your child make their own landscape painting inspired by a beautiful place.
As an extension writing activity, you could also have students write a letter to the 1871 Congress asking them to protect Yellowstone being sure to state the reasons why it should be a protected land.
I hope you enjoyed this art and history lesson! I’ve written a companion post to this one on my website, The Art Curator for Kids, about another really cool painting that further illustrates the concept of Manifest Destiny.
To see more art related to this theme, please check out artist Thomas Moran, Albert Bierstadt, William Keith, and Thomas Hill.
Cindy was once an art teacher and museum educator and is now a work at home mom of two lovely daughters (ages 3 and 5). She is passionate about the power of art in people’s lives and writes about how to teach art appreciation and enjoy art history with kids of all ages at the Art Curator for Kids. You can also find her on Facebook and Pinterest.
Another great installment of the ABC’s of American History series. Have you missed a few? Check out the entire series below:
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