Cultural Understanding and Critical Thinking | Hunter Museum of American Art 7.0.33-0+deb9u12

Cultural Understanding and Critical Thinking

Focus on Romare Bearden


This lesson can be adapted to suit different grade and skill levels.

English Language Arts

RL. KID: Analyze how and why individuals, events, and ideas develop and interact over the course of a text.
Rl. IKI:  Integrate and evaluate content presented in diverse formats and media, including visually and quantitatively, as well as in words.


Students will be able to: 

  • Identify the elements of a story
  • Discuss how images and words create meaning in a text
  • Write a story about an artwork
  • Create a collage that tells a story

“You should always respect what you are and your culture because if your art is going to mean anything, that is where it comes from.”

— Romare Bearden

Under Construction: Collage from The Mint Museum includes works of art by artists from other countries or eras or who have backgrounds different from those of your students. For this activity, students will look at an artwork by Romare Bearden as a visual conversation about artists who convey community, race, and culture through their art.

Although he was an accomplished painter and printmaker, Romare Bearden is best known for his masterful use of collage. Bearden used cut and torn photographs found in popular magazines as well as painted papers he made himself. He would then reassemble them into visually powerful statements on African American life. His imagery and symbols and imagery depict the hectic life of New York City and his adopted home of Harlem, memories of his North Carolina childhood home, a celebration of jazz, and blues musicians, and of African American religion and spirituality. 


(1911 – 1988), Reunion (from the series Ritual Bayou), 1970-1971

Romare Bearden’s work reflects on his life growing up in rural North Carolina as well as the bustling Harlem community he moved to in New York city. In this piece, we can find details in the different characters’ clothing that tells the story of a family member living in the city visiting an older loved one still living in a rural community.

Examples of Bearden’s art tells stories about urban and rural life for African-American citizens. See more of his works here:

IMAGE CREDIT: Romare Howard Bearden (1911-1988), Reunion (from the series Ritual Bayou), 1970-1971. Multiple collage (collage of color lithograph on plywood), 21 1/8 × 16 inches. Purchased with funds contributed at the 2000 Spectrum auction honoring the Spectrum volunteers – Mrs. Joseph Davenport, Jr., Mr. and Mrs. Daniel Frierson, Ruth and William Holmberg, Mr. and Mrs. Olan Mills, II, Mr. and Mrs. Paul Neely, Mr. and Mrs. Joe Prebul, Mr. and Mrs. Mervin Pregulman, Mr. Mark Ramsey, Mr. and Mrs. Richard Thatcher, Mr. and Mrs. Phil Whitaker, 2000.23.


Invite students to identify examples of how Romare Bearden represented his culture, the time period, and race or ethnicity of the figures seen in the The Train.

  • Ask students to research Bearden’s heritage. Have them explore:
    • Black communities in early 20th century North Carolina
    • Harlem in the mid 20th century
    • Major events that took place in the U.S. during his lifetime, especially those related to race relations. As they research, ask them to keep a list of facts they learn that help them to better understand and appreciate this artist’s life experience. 
  • Next, using their list and looking at the objects, setting, and people in the image, ask them to write about what this work might mean in the context of the information learned about the artist’s life and times.


Look at artworks by Romare Bearden and other pieces he and other artists have made that depict a personal understanding of race and culture through the content, symbolism, and perspective of the work. Look at examples by other artists that use mixed media and collage elements to share personal stories. 

Review the critical thinking questions listed above with the students and use their answers a motivation for making their own artwork.



  1. Using a pencil, have students sketch out a scene, story or interaction that shares a perspective on their lives– if they need help, suggest a holiday, special occasion or place that their family celebrates or visits that offers insight into what makes their family special or unique. 
  2. Use collage and other materials to fill in the scene. Suggest ways to help the main idea stand out by using brighter colors or layering different textures, colors and materials to draw attention to these important details. 
  3. Have students share their work along with a short paragraph or presentation that highlights what they are sharing with the group.




Header image credit: Photo by Andrey Novik on Unsplash


  • Paper
  • Pencils
  • Collage materials (magazines, photographs, print images, fabric, etc)
  • Glue or tape
  • Scissors
  • Drawing/painting materials (charcoal, oils pastels, water color, other paints)
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