Across the classroom, glossy magazines were being torn to shreds. More than a few giggles could be heard over the gleeful sound of ripping paper, as fingers became hopelessly smeared with glue.
And those were just the parents.
The group of more than thirty Henderson-Hopkins family members were gathered in the school’s Family Resource Center for “Get Smart About Art in the Classroom” a special, evening workshop featuring the inspirational collage art of Romare Bearden.
During the April 19 event, teachers and staff of the school teamed up with the Baltimore chapter of the Pierians Inc., a national organization dedicated to promoting the study and enjoyment of the fine arts, to give parents the chance to get “hands-on” with the same materials and content that their children have been working on in the classroom.
Romare Bearden, born in North Carolina in 1911, is considered one of the most important 20th-century American artists, perhaps best known for his photomontages made from images torn from popular magazines and assembled into visually powerful statements on African-American life.
Throughout the spring, Henderson-Hopkins students from kindergarten through eighth grade have been engaging with history, culture and writing through Bearden-inspired learning units, developed by arts integration teacher Hudson Apotheker and supported by the Pierians and the Romare Bearden Foundation. Bearden’s art was initially introduced into the Baltimore City Public Schools curriculum in 2014 at Henderson-Hopkins. Last year, City Schools implemented system-wide workshops for all public school-certified art teachers.
For Apotheker, the subject matter was a great fit. “One thing Bearden did was take stories like Homer’s Odyssey and re-interpret them using African-American characters and settings,” he said. “I told the students, ‘If you don’t see yourself represented, there are ways to make your experience known, like Romare Bearden.’”
Diedra Harris Kelley, co-director of the Romare Bearden Foundation, led off the event with a wide-ranging lecture on the artist’s life and works, and touching on his little-known connection with Baltimore—something the Pierians are hoping to draw attention to through a forthcoming guide and expanded curriculum support.
Though primarily associated with New York City during the later years of the Harlem Renaissance, Bearden spent a few years in Baltimore as a weekly editorial cartoonist for the Baltimore Afro-American. A number of his works are still extant in the city, including the well-known Baltimore Uproar, a 14-by-46-foot mosaic in Venetian glass and ceramic, located in Baltimore’s Upton-Avenue Market Metro Station on North Avenue.
“I enjoyed the introduction to Bearden and hearing about the history of the Renaissance,” said parent Rachelle Lucas. “I want to test out the train here to view his artwork.”
But it was the hands-on creative process—ripping up paper and reassembling new images—that seemed to hold the greatest appeal for most participants. “It’s like cut and paste, without using a cursor,” said Lucas. “It’s creative and prompts you to use your brain and find materials to be creative, rather than using what’s given to you.”