The unit I am designing around the Harlem Renaissance will have two large art projects: first, a reproduction of the cosmogram titled “Rivers,” designed by Houston Conwill, on the lobby floor of the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture in Harlem, in honor of Langston Hughes and Arturo Schomburg. “The Negro Speaks of Rivers,” the first poem Langston Hughes ever published, is embedded in brass in this brilliant red and blue mosaic which measures approximately fifteen feet in diameter. And, indeed, the blue mosaic rivers flow out from its nucleus, across the lobby floor. Buried under this nucleus are the remains of the poet, himself. Students will use paint to reproduce the cosmogram and will hang it on the wall of our classroom as a symbol of our unit; or because our halls are spacious and the floors are painted, the students may reproduce the cosmogram by painting it on the floor in the hall, as a permanent symbol of our unit and as part of the décor for our culminating activity, “Harlem Renaissance Night” celebration.
The second major art project is a class mural that will stretch the length of one side of the classroom. This mural will grow as the class researches: on the internet (there is a list of web sites at the end of the unit), at the New Haven Library, and in videos and CD’s, the people, places, poetry, art, music, dance, and photographs, such as the march on February 17, l9l9, up Fifth Avenue, by the 369th Infantry Regiment (a.k.a. Harlem Hell Fighters, 1,300 strong) all of whom were decorated by the French government with the Cross of War, at the end of WW I. This mural titled, “Soul of Harlem,” will develop a soul of its own as students find and create materials to mount, and as the unit progresses.
To introduce the cosmogram that the students will reproduce and to present an overview of the Harlem Renaissance, I will begin by showing the two-hour video titled A Walk Through Harlem that was produced by Public Broadcasting System in 1999. This walking tour hosted by David Hartmann and Barry Lewis, the historian and architect presents the history of Harlem, right through the Renaissance, and up to the present. The video is rich in art, architecture, and photographic images of the Renaissance. Hartmann and Lewis pay a visit to the Schomburg Center and stand on the cosmogram in the lobby where Professor Kate Russian explains the inception of the cosmogram, shows us the imbedded poem, and reads it aloud. This video, combined with photographs I have taken of the cosmogram, should give the students a clear model from which to work on reproducing this dramatic piece of art. It will be necessary for a small group of students to make a small scale drawing of the cosmogram. Then, it will need to be enlarged into sections and reproduced on three-foot wide roles of white paper. One group of students will need to reproduce letters for the poem, “The Negro Speaks of Rivers,” that will be overlaid onto the cosmogram. This could be done with stencils or computers. If students are going to reproduce the cosmogram on the floor, they will have to figure out how they are going to achieve this. In either case, planning and measuring will be crucial to the task.
A group of students may be responsible for reproducing the symbols that appear in the cosmogram, or one person per group will take responsibility for reproducing the symbols in its section of the cosmogram.