Use this guide to explore VMFA’s galleries and engage with the art. Then create a work of art at home inspired by what you saw! A printer friendly PDF of this resource can be found here: Early Childhood Lesson Concept: Portraits (PDF).
When an artist creates a representation of a person, it is called a portrait. Portraits usually focus on a person’s face, but can include the whole body. A portrait can be a painting, drawing, photograph, sculpture, or any other type of art. When an artist creates a portrait of himself or herself, it is called a self-portrait.
Today, photography is the most common form of portraiture. Before we had cameras, painting and drawing were often used to document how someone looked. Many important people, like kings and queens, had artists paint their portraits in the hopes of being remembered forever.
You can learn a lot about people by observing their portrait– where they are from, how they feel, even what they like to do! We invite you to use this self-guided lesson to learn more about some of the portraits here at VMFA!
To begin, ask your child what they know about portraits:
Did you know that phrasing your questions a certain way can make children think and strengthen their cognitive development and observational skills? Try asking open-ended questions that spark creative responses rather than questions that result in Yes or No answers.
One of the tools we use to engage our students is enrichment activities – songs, games and materials that invite children to explore the objects in a deeper capacity. We invite your family to do the same! Here are some guidelines to keep in mind:
Enter the museum through the main entrance and travel up the glass elevator to the second floor. Turn right out of the elevator and then left into the American Gallery. As you enter, look immediately to your left and you will find the bright yellow painting of Marian Anderson.
This is a portrait of Marian Anderson who was a well-renowned singer and performer of her time. The artist, Beauford Delaney, wanted to represent Marian’s beautiful voice and grace. He used the color yellow because he felt it symbolized perfection and transcendence. Listen to her famous performance on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial on April 9, 1939.
At the museum, we enjoy pointing out Marian’s “museum hands.” We encourage our young audience to mimic Marian by hugging their own hands together as they observe works of art around museum.
Gallery Action Rhyme and Song:
Hand-held mirrors are excellent tools for children to closely observe their facial features. As your child is looking in a mirror, say the following rhyme:
I have a little face
that belongs to me.
I have two ears to hear with
and two eyes to see.
I have a nose for smelling.
I have a mouth to eat.
I always like to smile
at everyone I meet.
You can also sing this fun Peek-a-Boo song together.
Did you know that sounds are made by vibrations? When you sing, your vocal cords move quickly back and forth, creating vibrations. Gently place your hand on your throat and sing a song. Can you feel the vibrations? Try this simple experiment about sound and vibrations at home!
When you are ready to continue your tour, turn right, and cross over the bridge above the atrium and main entrance. From there, you will take a left and walk onto a second bridge overlooking the Best Café, Rotating Sphere, and windows viewing the Sculpture Garden. Continue straight through into the Mid to Late 20th Century Gallery. You will pass Landscape with Wing by Anselm Kiefer on your left and Io, a circular bench, on your right (children love to climb over and under this bench- feel free to play here for a moment if your child so desires). After passing these works of art, you will see object number two– A Likeness of Francis B.
Robert Arneson was a ceramicist from California who made large clay sculptures of himself (self-portraits) and other people (portraits). In this work, he chose to represent Francis Bacon, who was also an artist. Here is a picture of the real Francis Bacon. Do you think the sculpture looks like him?
Arneson chose to combine three portraits into one sculpture to represent the different sides of Francis Bacon– his actual likeness, a shadowy profile, and a distorted face that references the art Francis Bacon created. Can you find all three?
This facial feature activity is one of our favorites here at VMFA. Here’s a link to download and print these facial features. You can also simply cut out facial features from a magazine. Bring them with you to the museum and let your child have fun creating faces in the galleries by placing the features on a paper face shape.
Humans began creating objects from clay over 25,000 years ago, including images of people. Here is an easy portrait activity that combines clay and other materials found in nature.
Did you know?
Social emotional growth is an important part of healthy child development. Take this opportunity to discuss feelings and emotions with your child. This article has some wonderful tips for fostering emotional intelligence in children.
Retrace your steps, making your way down to the atrium and back to the main entrance. Once outside, take a left and walk over the bridge until you see our final object- Chloe!
Jaume Plensa is a Spanish artist who makes very large outdoor sculptures. Chloe is part of a series of sculptural heads that feature young women, with closed eyes, whose dream-like qualities transform their surroundings. The marble dust that coats the sculpture’s surface reflects light, adding a sparkling effect.
Gallery Action Song:
Here is a song we sing at VMFA that helps us move our whole bodies.
Two Little Hands
(Tune: Twinkle Twinkle Little Star)
Two little hands go clap clap clap
Two little Feet go tap tap tap
Two little hands go thump thump thump
Two little feet go jump jump jump
One little body turns around
One little child sits quietly down
Here is another song you can use with this work: Head and Shoulders, Knees, and Toes
Did you know that regular practice of meditation has several beneficial effects on children’s emotional, mental, and intellectual development? Meditation can help children focus, handle stress, have positive social interactions with peers, and sleep better. Use this meditation prompt to meditate in the Sculpture Garden or other outdoor location.
After your visit to the museum, create your own self-portrait! Remember that the process is more important than the outcome. Allowing children to create their art with the freedom to make their own choices builds confidence and independence. We encourage this and hope that you will too! Learn more about the benefits of process based art here.
Here are some suggested books that relate to this resource:
Baby Faces by Margaret Miller
I Like Myself! by Karen Beaumont
The Colors of Us by Karen Katz
Pretty Brown Face by Andrea Davis Pinkney
Find a Face by Francoise Robert
My Many Colored Days by Dr. Seuss
The Feelings Book by Todd Parr
From Head to Toe by Eric Carle