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Arts Toolkit: Visual Arts Idea File



Idea File:

Art and Literature During the Harlem Renaissance

Ellis Wilson painting

Students create a poster presenting Ellis Wilson’s work with literature of the Harlem Renaissance that communicates similar meaning.


Poor Manís Africa

Teaching Concepts:

  • Students will learn about the famous African-American artist Ellis Wilson.
  • Students will learn about the Harlem Renaissance and writers during this period.

Academic Content

  • Visual Arts: purposes of art (artistic expression), periods (Harlem Renaissance)
  • Language Arts: African-American writers, literature of the Harlem Renaissance
  • History: American history during the Harlem Renaissance

Lesson Idea

View and Discuss: Show the “Poor Man’s Africa” video segment from Visual Arts and Culture and visit the program web site ( to read more about Wilson and view his paintings. Pay particular attention to the information about the Harlem Renaissance on the web site. Discuss Wilson, his work, his relationship to the Harlem Renaissance, and his significance.

Activity: Have each student choose a work of art by Wilson from the online gallery. Ask the students to find collections of Harlem Renaissance writings and/or African-American writings, especially poetry, and select a poem or other literary piece that complements the chosen painting.

Have each student write a description of the painting and an explanation for the complementary poem/writing he or she has chosen to match it. Each student should create a poster that includes a depiction of the selected painting by Ellis Wilson, a word-processed copy of the poem/literary excerpt chosen, and a word-processed explanation for the match. Students may add other elements, such as biographical information on Wilson or the writer, personal reactions/responses to the poem and/or painting, etc.

Display: The posters in the hallway.

Author: Adapted from a lesson by Kay Twaryonas


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