Lesson 3 Portraiture; A Pictorial Autobiography
Portraiture in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries was done by painters called limners. Limner literally means liner. These craftsmen were indigenous, self taught artists who had not had the chance for a formal European art education. They “produced art as a specific response to the needs and enthusiasms of their contemporaries for images of themselves and their surroundings . . . their work is often considered chiefly for its value in documenting the history of their times” (Lipman 8). It is hoped that the children can incorporate in their own work, not only a record of their own likeness but also a record that suggests their personality and preferences. If this lesson is pursued there are on file at the Yale-New Haven Teachers Institute some slides of portraits including the Beardsley Limner.
Objective The students will be able to replicate in their own work some of the techniques employed to give an added biography of the subject in a portrait.
Materials Large pieces of white paper 12x18, markers, pencils, -canvas boards and acrylic paints are on the art supply lists
Procedure Very often with children there is a hesitancy to try to create a likeness of themselves. This is one of the nice things about using folk art portraiture. In some cases the limners were and the students are equally unskilled. It is a great relief when students realize that they are not expected to do a photographic representation of themselves. If you use the available slides point out the skill of the painter, “even lack of organization and composition, . . . proceeded from the artist’s desire to show in a single canvas all that he could see before him—even . . . furnishings or architecture that could not be seen from a single, concentrated point of view” (Black 2).
The Beardsley Limner is one of the unidentified portraitists who worked who worked in Connecticut, Massachusetts and New York in the late eighteen hundreds. A series of paintings that reflect the same technique have been attributed to this one individual. The title Beardsley Limner is derived from the subjects in two of his first paintings, Hezekiah and Elizabeth Davis Beardsley. These painting hang in the Yale Art Gallery. Scheduling a trip to see these works and having a docent ‘draw’ the children out about what is suggested about the life and times of the Beardsleys is a worth-while experience. There are quite a few other period portraits of families as well as individuals that a class might find very interesting. you can find a good description of the elements included in the Beardsley Limner in the text “American Folk Painters of Three Centuries,” edited by Lipman and Armstrong.
Many of the younger students after either the trip or viewing the slides may be ready to draw. There are two more intermediate steps that may be taken: First, an interest survey that could include favorite games, colors, books, pets, shows or people. These lists could be private or brainstormed with the class and listed. These are the extra details for the portrait. The second possible point you may wish to cover are the general rules for drawing a head. There are many manuals and texts that deal with drawing parts of the body. These are generally available at libraries and stores. This is a fascinating lesson I have seen produce unique results.