Reading Texas History through Art

 
Activity One  |  Activity Two   |  Additional Resources
 
This lesson plan is designed for students in high school, college, and university classes in history, studio art, or art history. It is based on a lesson plan created by Peter Hacker, Assistant Professor of History at Tarrant County College–Northeast, winner of the Amon Carter Museum’s 2004 Innovative Teaching Award. Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills (TEKS) connections are given for grades 9–12.
 
Historians generally gather evidence from written documents. Other sources, however, must be consulted to construct a more complete view of the past. The visual arts provide a veritable treasure trove of historical information to the discerning eye. After all, a piece of art is also a piece of history. All artworks reflect glimpses into the era in which they were created. Period sketches and paintings are particularly valuable resources because they can reveal significant information about a past place and time—whether or not the artist intended to convey such knowledge. The sketches and watercolors by Sarah Ann Lillie Hardinge (1824–1913), Edward Everett (1818–1903), and James Gilchrist Benton (1820–1881), owned by the Amon Carter Museum, are no exception.
 

The three artists represented—Sarah Ann Lillie Hardinge, Edward Everett, and James Gilchrist Benton—created their artworks during a particularly tumultuous and exciting period in Texas history. The challenges of U.S. annexation, statehood, war with Mexico, and a booming population intent on “civilizing” the frontier, all helped shape these artists’ perceptions and directly influenced their art. The historian who applies a rigorous mixture of deductive reasoning and critical thinking skills to these artworks should be able to draw several sound historical conclusions about Texas and Texans in the mid-nineteenth century. Examining these unique representations of our Texas heritage truly puts the old adage “a picture is worth a thousand words” to the test. We already know that history can teach us about art, but what can art teach us about history?

 
Activity Option I: Analyzing Visual History
 
BACKGROUND
 
The standard historical essay required of students in most history classes is usually based on written sources such as manuscripts, printed materials, and published resources. This activity provides them with the opportunity to write a historical essay based on artworks. Using period sketches and watercolors as their primary source materials, they will extrapolate pertinent historical information from them.
 
OPENING
 
Artworks by Hardinge, Everett, and Benton contain an abundance of historical evidence; the students’ job is to recognize and interpret it. After viewing reproductions of these artists’ works, students will write an essay expressing cogent examples of historical knowledge gained through careful study of the images. The goal is to glean accurate historical information about Texas during early statehood by embracing these unwritten sources. Such a study will require careful analysis of the artworks, thorough background research on the artists, and consultation of a variety of sources.
 
TEKS (Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills) CONNECTIONS
 
Social Studies
 
9.5A – analyze how the character of a place is related to its political, economic, social, and cultural characteristics
 
9.16B – give examples of ways various groups of people view cultures, places, and regions differently
 
10.20B – analyze examples of how art, architecture, literature, music, and drama reflect the history of cultures in which they are produced
 
10.25B , 11.24A – locate and use primary and secondary sources such as computer software, databases, media and news services, biographies, interviews, and artifacts to acquire information
 
10.25E, 11.24D – use the process of historical inquiry to research, interpret, and use multiple sources of evidence
 
10.26D, 11.25C, 12.22C – transfer information from one medium to another, including written to visual and statistical to written or visual, using computer software as appropriate
 
11.20A – describe how the characteristics and issues of various eras in U.S. history have been reflected in works of art, music, and literature
 
12.23E – analyze and evaluate the validity of information from primary and secondary sources for bias, propaganda, point of view, and frame of reference
 
Art
 
9.3A – compare and contrast historical and contemporary styles, identifying general themes and trends
 
10.1B – compare suitability of art materials and processes to express specific ideas relating to visual themes, using precise art vocabulary
 
11.1B – analyze visual qualities to express the meaning of images and symbols, using precise art vocabulary
 
12.3A – identify and illustrate art history as a major source of interpretation
 
REQUIRED TIME AND EVALUATION CRITERIA
 
This activity is estimated to take one month to complete. The instructor will provide grades based on thoroughness of research and quality of writing at the appropriate grade level.
 
PROCEDURE
 
1.  
Students will carefully observe works of art by Texas artists Sarah Ann Lillie Hardinge,
  Edward Everett, and James Gilchrist Benton. While looking at the artworks, it will be helpful if students make lists describing what they see in each work. They will learn about the artists represented, the artworks, and historical context through research materials available to them on this site and in the Carter’s library and Teaching Resource Center.
 
2.  
In the ensuing weeks of the project, students will conduct their own research by visiting
  the Carter, consulting libraries, and conducting online searches.
 
3.  
Students will then write an essay addressing the following questions:
 
 
  • What motivated these artists to create their artworks? (Money? Professional development? Employment obligations? Creative expression? Scientific research? Personal agenda? Other?)
  • How did their individual motivations affect their styles? (Are their works abstract? Representational? Professional? Amateurish? Informational? Expressive? Other?)
  • What subject matter did the artists choose? (Portraits? Landscapes? Architecture?)
  • What influenced the artists’ choices in subject matter?
  • What materials did they use? (Paint? Sketching pencils? Canvas? Paper? Ink? Brushes?)
  • Does their use of such materials tell us anything about mid-nineteenth-century Texas?
  • How do these artworks convey a sense of what was going on culturally and economically in Texas between 1846 and 1856?
 
Note to Students: Remember that it takes almost as much creativity to adequately analyze an artwork as it does to create one, so BE CREATIVE! Form strong opinions and back them with solid research. Use information gathered from the images, your textbook, other books, and Web sites. High doses of historical research and original thought will result in great success!
 

Activity Option II: Creating Visual History
 
BACKGROUND
 
Students who view images by Hardinge, Everett, and Benton can readily see the importance of art to the study of history. Historical knowledge can also be expressed by creating artworks. This option is available to students who are comfortable creating and sharing their own artworks while demonstrating high school/college proficiency. It allows students to create art after drawing inspiration from the works of Hardinge, Everett, and Benton.
 
OBJECTIVE
 
Since historians can gain significant knowledge of the past by studying period art, we should create contemporary artworks with an eye to the future. Calling on the lessons learned by studying the artworks and lives of Hardinge, Everett, and Benton, students will create three sketches or watercolors that can serve as source material for future historians. Their topic should be our contemporary North Texas environment at the beginning of the twenty-first century, just as the Texas artists used their own setting as subject matter. Their images should contain subjects that reveal visual clues as to who North Texans are, how they think, and what they do. In keeping with the spirit of the Texas artists, students will be limited to sketching materials, watercolors, and ledger-sized paper.
 
TEKS (Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills) CONNECTIONS
 
Social Studies
 
9.2B – assess how people’s changing perceptions of geographic features have led to changes in human societies
 
9.5A – analyze how the character of a place is related to its political, economic, social, and cultural characteristics
 
9.21B – analyze and evaluate the validity and utility of multiple sources of geographic information such as primary and secondary sources, aerial photographs, and maps
 
10.20B – analyze examples of how art, architecture, literature, music, and drama reflect the history of cultures in which they are produced
 
10.25D, 11.24C – explain and apply different methods that historians use to interpret the past, including the use of primary and secondary sources, points of view, frames of reference, and historical context
 
11.20A – describe how the characteristics and issues of various eras in U.S. history have been reflected in works of art, music, and literature
 
11.25D, 12.22D – create written, oral, and visual presentations of social studies information
 
Art
 
9.1A – illustrate ideas for artworks from direct observation, experiences, and imagination
 
9.2C – demonstrate effective use of art media and tools in design, drawing, painting, printmaking, and sculpture
 
9.4B, 12.4B – select and analyze original artworks, portfolios, and exhibitions by peers and others to form precise conclusions about formal qualities, historical and cultural contexts, intents, and meanings
 
10.2C, 11.2C, 12.2C – select from a variety of art media and tools to communicate specific ideas in drawing, painting, printmaking, sculpture, ceramics, fiberart, jewelry, photography/filmmaking, and electronic media-generated art
 
11.4B – analyze original artworks, portfolios, and exhibitions to form conclusions about formal qualities, historical and cultural contexts, intents, and meanings and to show innovation and provide examples of in-depth exploration of one or more themes
 
12.1A – create themes for personal artworks that integrate a broad range of visual observations, experiences, and imagination
 
12.2B – evaluate and justify design ideas and concepts for use in personal artworks
 
REQUIRED TIME AND EVALUTION CRITERIA
 
This activity is estimated to take one month to complete. The instructor will provide grades based on the students’ abilities to communicate historical perspective through artistic efforts.
 
MATERIALS
 
Sketching paper, watercolors, brushes, easel, pens, pencils
 
PROCEDURE
 
1.  
Students will carefully observe works of art by Texas artists Sarah Ann Lillie Hardinge,
  Edward Everett, and James Gilchrist Benton. While looking at the artworks, it will be helpful if students make lists describing what they see in each work. They will learn about the artists represented, the artworks, and historical context through research materials available to them on this site and in the Carter’s library and Teaching Resource Center.
 
2.  
In the ensuing weeks of the project, students will scout a variety of contemporary
  North Texas sites and possible subject matter to be included in their three sketches/watercolors. Topics should be similar to those depicted by Hardinge, Everett, and Benton (i.e. architecture, outdoor scenes, character portraits), but highlighting modern scenes and/or people. When selecting their subject matter, students should pay particular attention to such questions as: What do you want future historians to see in your work? What do you NOT want them to see? What sorts of visuals would be most helpful for learning about contemporary North Texas life?
 
3.  
Students will render their artistic creations with great care, drawing on their highest
  artistic skills.
 
4.  
Students should include a paragraph about each of their artworks, briefly explaining
  their choice in subject matter.

ADDITIONAL RESOURCES
 
Web sites
 
“Amon Carter Museum.” Amon Carter Museum. http://www.cartermuseum.org “History Matters: Making Sense of Documentary Photographs.” In association with the Visual Knowledge Project. http://historymatters.gmu.edu/mse/Photos/

 
“Texas Beyond History: Uncovering our Cultural Heritage.” The University of Texas at Austin, College of Liberal Arts. http://www.texasbeyondhistory.net/index.html

 
“Texas History.” Kingwood College Library. http://kclibrary.nhmccd.edu/texashistory.html

 
“Timeline of Art History: The United States and Canada, 1900 A.D.–Present.” The Metropolitan Museum of Art. http://www.metmuseum.org/toah/ht/11/na/ht11na.htm

 
Books (all available in the Carter’s library)
 
Ahlborn, Richard E. The San Antonio Missions: Edward Everett and the American Occupation, 1847. Fort Worth, Texas: Amon Carter Museum, 1985.
 
Butterfield, Roger Place. The American Past; a History of the United States from Concord to the Nuclear Age. New York: Simon and Schuster, 1957.
 
Davidson, Marshall B. The Drawing of America: Eyewitnesses to History. New York: Abrams, 1983.
 
Day, James, et al. Six Missions of Texas. Waco, Texas: Texian Press, 1965.
 
Fleischhauer, Carl and Beverly W. Brannan, eds. Documenting America, 1935–1943. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1988.
 
McCaleb, Walter Flavius. Spanish Missions of Texas. San Antonio: Naylor Co., 1961.
 
Ratcliffe, Sam DeShong. Painting Texas History to 1900. Austin: University of Texas Press, 1992.
 
Torres, Louis. San Antonio Missions. Tucson: Southwest Parks and Monuments Association, 1993.
 
Visit the Carter’s Teaching Resource Center http://www.cartermuseum.org/learn/teaching-resource-center to find more resource materials.

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Rights & Reproductions Visit the Carter Museum Web site. Copyright 2005 Amon Carter Museum