The Past and the Curious: Under Your Feet
This episode is about places that used to be and which are now covered up by something new.Yarrow Mamout was an unusual man in early America, but the black business leader's story was literally buried by buildings near Washington DC. In the 2000s, his story came to light.Also, the Los Angeles communities of La Loma, Palo Verde, and Bishop were often grouped together under the name Chavez Ravine. The people of these communities were uprooted, and now Dodger stadium stands where they once lived. Listen to the episode here.
After the episode, do the activity! Read on for an art appreciation and drawing activity!
Yarrow Mamout's Portrait
After you listen to the The Past and The Curious episode featuring the story of Yarrow Mamout, we have several activities to offer that relate to the Charles Wilson Peal portrait described in the episode.
You can find that portrait here, at the Philadelphia Museum of Art’s website https://philamuseum.org/collections/permanent/319114.html
You’ll need to look closely at the portrait for several of these activities. Note these will work best with two people, ideally a child and adult, but also two children will work.
Activity one: What do you see?
Begin by looking closely at Yarrow’s portrait for 30 seconds. Pay attention to the details of his posture, his clothing, and anything else you notice in the image.
Now turn away from the image and describe the portrait in as much detail as possible to the person with you. If it is helpful, that person can look at the image and ask guiding questions when you’ve run out of things to say.
Then, while looking back at the portrait, ask (and try to answer) some analytical questions:
Why is Yarrow wearing what he is wearing?
Do you think this was a special moment for the sitter (Yarrow) and/or the painter (Peale)?
Why was the portrait made in the first place?
Activity Two: Compare and Contrast
There is another, different, portrait of Yarrow that exists and it is owned by the Washington, D.C. Library. The other portrait was painted by James Alexander Simpson.
You can find a digital copy of it here: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Yarrow_Mamout#/media/File:Portrait_of_Yarrow_Mamout_by_James_Alexander_Simpson.jpg
With two browser windows, open both portraits and compare and contrast the both portraits.
What is similar about the portraits?
Which one do you think was painted first?
What is different about the portraits?
If you hadn’t been told, would you know this is the same person? Why or why not?
How did the two different painters place Yarrow in the frame of the painting and do you think there's anything we can learn about their impression him from that choice?
It was unusual for most people to have one portrait made of them. Why do you think Yarrow had two?
Activity Three: Sit still and get drawn (or draw someone)
Sitting for a portrait takes a long time and painting a portrait takes a lot of skill.
We’re not expecting you to be like Yarrow and Peale, but it can be fun to sit for a quick drawing. Don’t worry, your results can be far from perfect. You do not need to be a great artist!
Here’s the idea: One person will be the artist, the other will be the sitter. If you are the sitter, try to mimic Yarrow’s pose - maybe even dress like him (bet you have a hat like that somewhere).
Sit in his pose and think about what he might have thought about while he was seated for hours. Try to keep the same pose while the artist draws you.
The artist can use anything, pencil, colored pencil, crayons, to try to capture the likeness of the sitter.
It shouldn’t take long, just a few minutes, but the goal is to get a sense of what posing for a portrait might have been like. If you get a great drawing out of it too, that’s great!