2004 Camden Children at Peace Poster

Lesson Plan for
Romare Bearden

Grades 3 to 8

An Interactive Reproduction Presentation Followed by a Slide Presentation

Art Aware
1701 South 4th Street

Camden, NJ 08014

(856) 365-0831


Click on any image for black & white version.

Students will be able to identify artwork by Romare Bearden and to explain his techniques.

Students will learn to look for cut and pasted papers and images, paint, ink and pencil designs, shapes and spaces and the rhythms therein. They will learn to listen to music by looking at Bearden’s work and learn to see Bearden’s work by listening to jazz.


  • Cassette/CD player
  • Cassette/CD of Jazz (see Resources #5)
  • Reproductions and Slides

As students enter the classroom, “Autumn” will be played and as they leave “Carolina Shout” will be played.

Romare Bearden was an African American artist who loved life. He was born in 1911 in Charlotte, N.C. and moved to New York City when he was four years old. His family settled in Harlem and many famous writers, scholars and artists visited his home.

As a boy he often visited his relatives in Pittsburgh and Mecklenburg County, N.C. He graduated from New York University with a degree in Science in Education. He got a job as a case worker in the New York City Department of Social Services which he kept for many decades.

He always loved art and studied art in college and at night school after he graduated.
After a full day’s work, he would come home and work at his art at night.

“Tomorrow I May Be Far Away”
You can see in “Tomorrow I May Be Far Away” a man (perhaps Bearden himself) looking back on his childhood memories with his grandmother in North Carolina. Can you see the wall of a wooden shack? How did he make this wall? There are three main characters in this work. Can you describe them? Look at the hands. Are they a mixture of white and black people’s hands? Can you find the train which Bearden uses many times to show people traveling from place to place which also represents change and a progression through time?

When you look at the two large faces, do they seem to move? Do the cut-out pieces seem to slide like the notes in a piece of jazz music?

Bearden wasn’t interested in representational art. If he wanted an exact replica of something all he had to do was use his camera. He wanted FEELING in his artwork. How do you think the seated figure is feeling? Does the title help in describing his feeling?

"Captivity and Resistance"
Romare Bearden was a people person. Especially an African American people person! To commemorate the opening of the African American Museum in Philadelphia in 1976, Bearden created a huge fabric collage called “Captivity and Resistance.” The central figure, Cinque, is the leader of the slave rebellion aboard the Amistad. Do you see Frederick Douglas, Harriet Tubman, John Brown? So you see black soldiers in Confederate uniforms being commanded by a white Union officer? In the scale at the left, who is the more weighty of the two, the white man or the black man?

“The Lamp”
To commemorate the ending of segregation in public schools, Bearden made “The Lamp.” Two young people with mask-like faces are reading a book. Bearden shows the lamp and book (education !), lighting the darkness of the past leading to a brighter future.

“Odysseus Enters the Room Disguised as an Old Man” (PDF, see p.10)
How Bearden loved books! In “Odysseus Enters at the Door Disguised as an Old Man”, he goes back to a story 2,800 years old called “The Odyssey” by Homer. (Go to your library and you will find hundreds of references to the story!)

Here is the part of the story captured in his artwork.

For ten years, Penelope, Odysseus’ wife, has been holding off the suitors - the men wanting to marry her and take over her Kingdom of Ithaca, believing her husband would return. She tells the aggressive suitors that she will marry one of them when she finishes weaving the cloth on her loom. She unravels it each night and starts over each day to delay the time when she will have to marry one of them. Finally, unbeknownst to Penelope, Odysseus returns on the ship in the background, disguised as an old man (otherwise the suitors would kill him). He makes himself known to his son and together they plot the overthrow of the suitors. (His old cat is the only one who recognizes him.)

Penelope realizes she must give in to the suitors’ demands and she tells them she will marry whoever has the strength to pull back her husband’s bow (in upper left corner of painting) and shoot an arrow through a series of rings. The old man is the only one able to do this. He shoots all the arrows and kills the suitors and regains his kingdom.

He had seen a painting of this story in a book called “Penelope and Her Suitors,” which he liked very much, done in 1509 by Pintorricheo, an Italian artist. Bearden did his own version of the story with black people. Can you find the key people and objects of the story? Odysseus is way back on the right, in the doorway. Penelope, the loom and the cloth she’s weaving, the evil suitors, the bow and arrow, the cat, the ship that carried Odysseus home are all there as well.

”The Street”
Bearden continues to call attention to black people, in this case, to African Americans living in New York City. The original collage has areas of color: the buildings, a sweater, a red collar, an orange-brown African mask-like face. Bearden enlarged his artwork in black and white and studied the difference without the color. The faces popped out more! With the color, it looks a little softer, more three-dimensional.

What do you think? Do you see the guitar front and center? Do you see a woman’s face that looks like she knows “the blues?”

“J-Mood” (Scroll the "Romare Bearden Gallery" to find the image)
Can you hear the trumpet in “J-Mood?” Can you imagine that purple dancer moving to the beat? Look at the waves of melody in the background, the space between notes in the white areas of color, the white sleeve button, the white slash on the top of the dancer’s head and under her thigh and finally, do you see the two stars – red on the left and yellow on the right – maybe representing the highest, brassiest notes being played. Listen to this piece of music on Branford Marsalis’ CD while looking at the artwork.

“Berkeley – Life of the City”
Bearden loved to study. Imagine how he must have studied about the history of the city to complete this commission. Bearden loved people and it shows in this very large collage. Do you recognize any persons, places or things? Which people attract you? Can you identify any people by race? Can you find one place where Bearden represents all the peoples of the world? Do you see the train or other modes of transportation signifying a journey and a passage of time? How diverse is the City of Berkeley in terms of race, employment, age, geography, etc.

“The Artist with Painting and Model”
This is Bearden’s only known self-portrait. But his face is blank. What we see is his life’s work of drawing, painting, collage and studying. Do you see a part of a 14th century Renaissance painting? Do you see his brushes, pencils, fabric, watercolor, collage pieces? Which figure represents Africa and which African American? The painting on the easel is a version of one Bearden did 40 years earlier. Do you see the gray fabric on the chair and the place where there’s a cut-out of his hand that is resting on the top of the picture frame?
Bearden chose hot to draw his own face, perhaps because he saw himself in the faces and place of so many other people. Bearden did very few pieces of artwork without people in them.

Slide Presentation

You can see in the following slides how Bearden remembered people and places in his artwork.

Pittsburgh Memories:
“Farewell Eugene” 1978 - He remembered his childhood friend, Eugene Bailey, who died when Bearden was a teenager.

“Pittsburgh Memories” 1984 – He remembered the boarding house his step grandfather owned and his grandmother, rubbing cocoa butter on the burns of the boarders who had migrated from the South and found jobs working in the steel mills.

Mechlenberg County:
“Tomorrow I May Be Far Away” 1966 – He remembered the shacks there.
“Madeline Jones’ Wonderful Garden” 1977 – He remembered all the gardens there.
“Prevalence of Ritual: The Conjur Women” 1964 – He remembers the women who had special magical powers.

“Prevalence of Ritual: The Baptism” 1964 – Bearden honored rituals in Africa and in the United States by depicting baptisms with African masks featured.

Civil Rights:
“Now the Dove and Leopard Wrestle” 1946 – What you really see is a bull and a horse wrestling. Guess who will win? This symbolizes powerlessness in the face of powerful, evil forces like racism.

New York City:
“The Block II” 1972 - Bearden painted all the people he imagined, he knew and he read about.
“Spring Way” 1964 – He painted the places where city people lived.
“The Street” Photostat 1964 – He painted the lifestyles of many inner city folk of all ages.
“City Lights” 1970 (PDF, see p.51)- He painted the music, the rhythms, the beats that were everywhere in the city.
“Midtown Sunset” 1981 – This is one of the few works that has no people. He painted the city during the day and at night.

European Influence:
“Odysseus Enters the Room Disguised as an Old Man” 1977 (PDF, see p.10) – Bearden studied and remembered ancient stories and European artists.

Harlem, The Apollo Theatre, The Savoy:
“Of the Blues - Carolina Shout” 1974 – Bearden combined the sacred and profane in this baptism collage: there is the baptism ritual and the famous jazz song and dancing.
“Of the Blues – At the Savoy” 1974 – With great skill, he created dancers floating in space. He believed that when you sang or played the Blues, you always felt better.

Island of St. Martin:
“In a Green Shade” – He painted the island his wife was born on which he loved so much.

Students will be asked to recall and comment upon the reproductions and slides that reflected Bearden’s life and the techniques he used to give them a visual and musical experience.

Lesson Plan Resources
Lesson Plan: Bearden Art-Making Workshop

Copyright 2005 Art Aware.

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Posted 6 February 2005, updated December 1, 2013