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Arts Toolkit

Arts Toolkit: Visual Arts Video Clips

Poor Manís Africa



Ellis Wilson was an African-American painter from Mayfield, KY whose work honored the everyday lives of people of color. The “Poor Man’s Africa” segment from KET’s 60-minute documentary about the artist focuses on Wilson’s travels to Haiti in the 1950s and their effect on his work. His paintings from this period illustrate the distinctive style that would become the hallmark of his work: flat shapes, sharp contrasts, bright colors, and patterned backgrounds with little attention, if any, given to facial features and details.

Suggested Uses:

  • Use to spark a discussion about artists’ methods and intentions. Discuss the impact of Haiti on Wilson’s work.
  • Pair with a visit to the online gallery of Ellis Wilson’s work to analyze his use of the elements of art and principles of design in his paintings. Use this analysis to help students create paintings inspired by Ellis Wilson.
  • Compare Wilson’s work to the work of another great African-American artist, Jacob Lawrence. Examples of his work can be found online or in the Speed Art Museum gallery of the Kentucky Virtual Art Museum CD-ROM.
  • Use in discussions of the contributions of African Americans to contemporary American art or the Harlem Renaissance (social studies, humanities, and visual arts).
  • Use in a discussion of prejudice and how the arts can help people better understand and appreciate those who are different from them.

Lesson plans using this resource:

  • Creating a Figure Painting (4-5)
    Students learn about Kentucky-born painter Ellis Wilson and create a painting in his style.
  • Using the Responding to Art Worksheets (5-12)
    Students learn about Kentucky painter Ellis Wilson and use the Responding to Art worksheet to describe, analyze, interpret, and judge a painting by Wilson.
  • Writing About Ellis Wilson (9-12)
    Students examine the subject matter of Ellis Wilson’s paintings and write articles about what his work communicates about life and culture.

For more information:

(These links may leave the Arts Toolkit.)

About Ellis Wilson—So Much To Paint:


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