Romare Bearden

Bearden (1911-1988)

An Art-Making Workshop for Middle School Kids by Linda Camardo 2004-2005 Art With Kids Award Winner

Lesson plan

Romare Bearden

Romare Bearden was born in Mecklenburg County, North Carolina where he spent much of his youth. His family later moved North and Romare spent his time living with his grandmother in Pittsburgh and his family in Harlem. He developed early interests in both music and the visual arts. He is noted as one of the premiere American artists of the 20th century as his art depicts personal memories and the African-American experience.


Artists conceptualize cultural, historical, social, and personal experiences in their work. We will focus on Romare Bearden’s life, the development of his collage style, the influences of his life in North Carolina, Pittsburgh, and Harlem and the history of the Harlem Renaissance and jazz as they are represented in his art. Bearden believed that both art and jazz music relied heavily upon improvisation and he used improvisation to combine collage materials in his artwork.

Figure 1.
Student Work, The Philadelphia Skyline View From a Crib: Good night, boungys.


Students will:

  • learn about the life and works of African-American artist, Romare Bearden
  • identify symbols and connections between Bearden’s life and love of jazz and their representation in his art
  • learn method of creation of collage with emphasis on use of layers, textures, surfaces
  • learn about the selection of collages materials
  • make decisions about which materials best express personal experience, cultural or historical depiction
  • learn to create collage to maintain a unifying artistic motif
  • create a mixed media collage depicting one of the following:
    1. family heritage, celebration, or tradition
    2. personal, childhood memory
  • write an accompanying piece to the collage


Harlem Renaissance, collage, symbolism, monoprint, fractured cubism, negative space, dry brush technique, jazz, call and response, unifying motif


  1. Romare Bearden Slides [Figures 2-6]:

    Figure 2
    Romare Bearden
    Pittsburgh Memories, Farewell Eugene
    , 1978
    16 x 20 inches
    © Romare Bearden Foundation/Licensed by VAGA. New York, NY


    Figure 3
    Romare Bearden
    Pittsburgh Memories
    , 1984
    Collage of various papers with fabric,foil, paint, ink, color pencil,
    graphite and bleached areas on fiberboard
    28 5/8 x 23 inches
    © Romare Bearden Foundation/Licensed by VAGA. New York, NY


    Figure 4
    Romare Bearden
    Tomorrow I May Be Far Away
    , 1966-67
    Collage of various papers with charcoal and graphite on canvas
    46 x 56 inches
    © Romare Bearden Foundation/Licensed by VAGA. New York, NY


    Figure 5
    Romare Bearden
    The Block
    , 1972 (6 panels) 
    Collage of cut paper and synthetic polymer paint on masonite
    48 x 216 inches
    © Romare Bearden Foundation/Licensed by VAGA. New York, NY


    Figure 6
    Romare Bearden
    The Blues
    , 1975
    Collage with acrylic paint and lacquer on board
    24 x 18 inches
    © Romare Bearden Foundation/Licensed by VAGA. New York, NY



  2. Romare Bearden Prints [Figures 7 - 10]:

    Figure 7
    Romare Bearden
    Folk Musicians
    , 1941-42
    Gouache with ink and graphite on brown paper
    © Romare Bearden Foundation/Licensed by VAGA. New York, NY


    Figure 8
    Romare Bearden
    Three Folk Musicians
    , 1967
    50 1/8 x 60 inches
    Collage of various papers with paint and graphite on canvas
    © Romare Bearden Foundation/Licensed by VAGA. New York, NY


    Figure 9
    Romare Bearden
    The Piano Lesson
    , 1983
    29 x 22 inches
    © Romare Bearden Foundation/Licensed by VAGA. New York, NY


    Figure 10
    Romare Bearden
    The Conversation
    , 1977
    11 1/8 x 15 1/8 inches, collage; 
    21 1/2 x 28 1/2 inches, lithograph
    © Romare Bearden Foundation/Licensed by VAGA. New York, NY



  3. Photographs of Romare Bearden as a child, in different stages of his life, working in his studio, interacting with jazz musicians.
  4. Listen to jazz music while the students are working in a studio atmosphere.

Materials - Art Supplies


  • Un-stretched, primed canvas or Strathmere paper (heavy weight), 12 ½ x 18
  • Acrylic paints
  • Monoprint inks, brushes and Plexiglas (optional)
  • White drawing paper (dampened for monoprinting) (optional)
  • Magazines for cutouts (Smithsonian, Life, National Geographic, Ebony)
  • Scrap papers of various types and textures (wallpaper, pastepaper, handmade papers, newspapers, monoprints, colored tissue paper, etc.)
  • Black and white photographs of students (to be taken by teacher)
  • Student childhood photos xeroxed to black and white
  • Oil pastels, chalk pastels, sharpie markers (various point size), watercolors
  • Glue sticks, 'Yes' glue,
  • scissors

Figure 11. Student Supplies


Figure 12. Student Art Materials



We begin this workshop with an introduction to the life and works of Romare Bearden. We emphasize the importance of memories depicted in Bearden’s art from those of Mecklenburg County, most clearly of the trains journeying north, pepper jelly and his great-grandmother’s garden to those of the smoke stacks of Pittsburgh to the cityscapes and jazz influences of Harlem. We view slides, prints, and photographs of Bearden’s collages that incorporate these memories as symbols in his work.

Figure 13. Student Busy at Work:
Final application of color details in The Fall


To brainstorm ideas for student work, we begin to recall vivid memories of our own childhood. Students write a 'memory page' about a specific moment in time, one that captures rich, visual memories. These informal writings may be in paragraph or simple list form to initiate visual context for the collage work.


Figure 14. Student Work, The Fall: So Many Mixed Emotions


Students next sketch on newsprint a draft idea for collage, keeping in mind interesting composition, a fractured, cubist motif, and the utilization of different collage pieces. Not much detail is planned yet this is just the groundwork.


Figure 15. Student Work, Dreams That Aren't Afraid to Come True: My Motivations


Next we prepare and collect collage materials. Monoprints of varying textures and patterns are to be created in class and shared among students. Collage materials range from wallpaper, newspaper text, tissue paper, handmade and specialty papers, family photographs that have been cut and re-assembled, magazine cutouts, combinations of drawn, painted or oil pastel sections and monoprints. Collage papers are both torn and cut to vary the edges.


Figure 16. Student Work, I'm Waiting to Hear Mom's Keys (At After Care)


Students place collage pieces on canvas surface. Much experimentation takes place: arranging, re-arranging of pieces, re-working, solving composition problems, and incorporating interesting negative space. Once they are satisfied with the development, students glue pieces on canvas with great care and craftsmanship. This is the most wonderful part of all, the student’s memory comes to life, as the artwork unfolds in Bearden style. The results are amazing!


Figure 17. Student Work, Mihi Nomen Est: Their Names Will Never Be Known



  • The Art of Romare Bearden: A Resource for Teachers, The National Gallery of Art, 2003
  • Romare Bearden by Myron Schwartzman, Grolier Press, 1999
  • Romare Bearden, Artist by Kevin Brown, Introduction Essay by Coretta Scott King, Chelsea House Publishers, 1995
  • Encyclopedia of the Harlem Renaissance by A. and S. West, Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc., 2003
  • The Art of Romare Bearden: A Book of Postcards, The National Gallery of Art
  • Romare Bearden, Photographs by Frank Stewart, Foreword: David C. Driskell, Pomegranate Communications, 2004


  • The Art of Romare Bearden, National Gallery of Art
  • Visual Jazz: Romare Bearden, Narrated by Wynton Marsalis, Created and produced by Linda Freeman


Children’s Books

  • I Live the Music by Ntozake Shange, paintings by Romare Bearden
  • Ahrlem, A Poem by Walter Dean Myers, pictures by Christopher Myers
  • Me and Uncle Romie by Claire Hartfield, pictures by Jerome Lagarrigue
  • The Block Poems by Langston Hughes, collages by Romare Bearden
  • Harlem STOMP: A Cultural History of the Harlem Renaissance by Lagan Carrick Hill