William H. Johnson. Children. 1941 30

Oil and pencil on wood panel, 17 1/2 × 12 1/2" (44.5 × 31.8 cm). Gift of Abby Aldrich Rockefeller (by exchange), Agnes Gund, Marlene Hess and James D. Zirin, and the Hudgins Family

Educator, Amber Hunnicutt: My name is Amber Hunnicutt. I am a museum educator. You’re looking at a painting called Children, created in 1941.

Let’s look at the children's facial expressions. I notice that the child on the right is smiling with their teeth showing. Neither of the other two children seem like they’re smiling. It could be because times were tough for them and their families. This painting was created in 1941, and life was hard for many African Americans. There were still many laws that made it so Black people couldn’t shop in the same stores, eat in the same restaurants, or go to the same schools as white people.

What do you notice about their skin colors? I notice that they all have beautiful brown skin and all of their skin is a different shade of brown. However, both then and now, Black people with darker skin tones have been treated worse than Black people with lighter skin tones. It’s not fair and it's something that we should all be thinking and talking about more.

Let’s look closely at the children's clothes. What do you notice about their clothing? They’re all wearing hats with different colors and patterns. They could be going to church together. Some Black Americans like to wear special hats to church. When I was growing up, my grandma Barbara went to church every Sunday, and she always wore an amazing outfit with a big matching hat.

People use clothing as a way to express who they are and what’s important to them. If you were going to create a portrait of yourself, how would you show who you are and what’s important to you through your clothing?

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