Romare Bearden : She-ba

Overview Artist Biography Planning Ahead Materials & Setup Class Discussion Project Directions Reflections Downloads & Resources Docent Forum

Overview

Here is a link to the museum that currently holds this piece: Wadsworth Atheneum Museum of Art

1970; paper, cloth, and paint on board; 48 in. x 35 7/8 in. Wadsworth Atheneum Museum of Art, Hartford, CT, USA Wadsworth Atheneum Museum of Art, Hartford, CT, The Ella Gallup Summer and Mary Catlin Summer Collection Fund Art © Romare Bearden Foundation/Licensed by VAGA, New York, NY, USA. www.vagarights.com

In this lesson, students will:

  • Analyze Bearden’s use of collage and paint to tell the story of the Queen of Sheba
  • Identify how Bearden’s use of color, line, shape, and texture gives rhythm to the collage
  • Describe the use of positive and negative space, angular lines, and geometric shapes
  • Sketch figures in proportion
  • Create abstract figure collages, using textured and colored paper, that communicate the feeling of rhythm

Lesson Teaching Notes

A document of summary pages on the lesson’s Key Concepts, Vocabulary, Discussion Questions, Artist Points, and Project Directions.

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Materials and Setup

Materials List
  • paper for practice sketching
  • 12×18 assorted colored paper
  • 6×9 assorted colored paper
  • patterned paper pieces (old magazines, newspaper, and scraps)
  • 9×12 skin-tone paper
  • drawing pencils
  • oil pastels or crayons or markers
  • color wheel
  • glue
  • scissors
Setup Directions
  • Set out sketchbooks and drawing pencils.
  • Set out 12×18 assorted background paper, 6×9 assorted paper for clothing, skin-tone circles, scissors, color wheel, and glue.
  • Have ready oil pastels, crayons, or markers for fine details.
Variations
  • Show a figure in action, such as kicking a ball or dancing. Make figures that interact, such as two basketball players.
  • Use assorted patterned fabric, wrapping paper, ribbon, buttons, yarn, and rickrack to add texture to the clothing.
  • Make a profile silhouette of each student and add clothing, using fabric and textured paper. To make silhouettes, project a shadow of the student’s profile onto paper taped to a wall. Pose the student in front of the paper and shine a bright light, such as a flashlight or projector light, on his or her profile. The student should be closer to the paper than to the light source. Draw around the contour of the shadow on the paper and cut it out and mount it on contrasting paper, or use white chalk on black paper or black marker on white paper.
  • To simplify project for younger students: Precut colored rectangles, triangles, squares, and circles for clothing.
  • To extend project for older students: Add a second figure, animal, or attribute.

Photos of Setup

Class Discussion

What makes the figures abstract?
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Style - Abstract

The figures are abstract in that they are simplified and exaggerated. We don’t see details in their faces and skin. Simplified shapes and repeated lines in the patterns show the figures and their costumes, but they don’t look like real people. Bearden exaggerated skin color to emphasize the African-American heritage.

Who is the woman in this picture?
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Style - Queen of Sheba/Collage

The woman, She-Ba, probably represents the Queen of Sheba, a wise and wealthy queen who lived in Arabia long ago during the time of King Solomon. She-Ba resembles a queen in the way she holds a crook, or staff, a traditional symbol of power; wears a big crown-like hat; and sits with regal posture on a throne-like chair. The Queen of Sheba was a black woman, related to Ethiopians. Bearden is African-American and his art often tells stories about his people’s heritage.

This picture is a collage, made from layers of paper pasted together to form figures. The word collage comes from the French word for pasting.

Why is the boy partly cut off?
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Space - Placement/Overlap

The queen is placed in the center to show her importance. The boy is less important and he is placed in the background. He seems like a servant, hold an umbrella to shade the queen. He reaches toward her in a helpful gesture. Could this boy be her son? According to stories, the people of Ethiopia are the descendants of Menelik, the son of the Queen of Sheba.

Bearden overlapped colors and shapes to make patterns on the queen’s dress and hat.

How does Bearden use color to help tell his story?
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Color - Warm/Cool/Contrast

The warm colors of the yellow sky behind the queen suggest a hot day in Africa. The warm gold stripes on the cane and the red stripes in her dress, hat, umbrella, sandals and background add excitement.

Cool blue and green background colors emphasize the queen.

The black skin contrasts with the colors of the background. The boy’s head contrasts with the yellow background, and his plain black and white clothes contrast with She-Ba’s brightly colored clothes. The red hat and red stripes stand out in contrast to the dark cool colors.

What creates a feeling of rhythm in this picture?
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Design - Rhythm/Composition/Pattern/Repetition

Repeated round shapes in the cane, hat, umbrella, skirt, boy’s head, and elbow repeat a rhythm. Repeated red lines and the zig zags add rhythm, like a repeated drum beat. Bearden loved jazz; repetition of shapes and colors is like a jazz beat in his art.

She Ba’s figure is full of movement and energy, in contrast with the still, cool background shapes. The composition alternates warm and cool colors, sharp and curving lines, and busy and empty spaces.

Zigzags form a pattern on the queen’s skirt and sandals. A pattern of repeated thick lines decorate her hat, umbrella, and the hem of her skirt.

Red lines, black shapes, and yellow spaces are repeated at the top of the picture and again in small spaces at the bottom. Repetition helps unite all parts of the painting.

What kinds of line create a feeling of movement in She Ba’s picture?
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Lines - Angular/Curving/Diagonal

Angular lines zigzag across the queen’s skirt and feet. Another zigzag runs from her shirt and arm to her bracelet and cane. Sharp angles are repeated at the corners of the background rectangles and near her feet. Angular lines make our eyes move around in different directions, adding to the feeling of movement.

The curving lines in umbrella, the woman’s hat, face, shirt, elbows, skirt, and feet cascade down the picture from the upper left corner to the lower right. The cane’s curve is repeated in the curving back of her chair and her bright red sleeve. The rolling curves move our attention from one curve to the next.

Diagonal lines in She-Ba’s arms, the zig zags, and the cane add to the feeling of movement. They contrast with the vertical and horizontal lines of the background.

What shapes tell about She-Ba?
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Shape - Profile/Torso/Positive/Negative

She Ba and the boy are seen from the side in profile view. They are facing an unseen audience, not the viewer.

She-Ba’s torso, or upper body, is in the upper center of the picture because she is most important. The boy’s torso is partly cut off at the side of the picture because he is less important.

The positive shape of the figure and skirt show the figure. When making this collage, Bearden cut the paper apart and separated it to expose the background color. The dress is a positive shape and the blue negative pattern looks like a fancy design on her skirt.

Negative space, or empty space in the background make the queen seem fancier and more important.

How does texture make the picture more interesting?
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Texture - Actual/Visual

She-Ba’s shawl, fringe of the boy’s pants, and bottom of She-Ba’s skirt have actual texture. The cut out paper of the boy’s shirt and pants, She-Ba’s skirt, arms, and hat, throne, and the background colors have paper texture. Bearden used paper, cloth and paint in this collage.

The painted designs on the clothing and background have visual texture. The wood of the chair has the visual texture of wood, but it is not real wood. Textures make the figures and the whole composition more interesting. Imagine how the painting would look if the clothes were just one color.

Download Discussion Questions
Download Key Concepts

Video

Project Directions

Collage Figure

Directions

Warm up and Brainstorm

  • Talk about how shapes can represent such objects as clothing. Identify the shapes of pants (rectangles), shirts (squares or rectangles), skirts (triangles), and hats (circles).
  • Talk about details that tell about a person. Talk about clothing and other attributes and accessories, such as umbrellas, shoes, canes, scepters, crowns, and hats.

Project Directions

  1. Sketch a stick figure using 1-2-3 proportions.
  2. Draw a large figure on the final 12×18 paper. Glue precut three inch skin tone circles at the top of the page. The body can be slightly diagonal to show movement.
  3. Draw, cut, arrange clothing for the figure using patterned paper and contrasting colors, creating visual and actual texture. Make sure shirt covers line of stick figures arms. Cut out pants that cover the stick figures legs.
  4. Draw and cut arms, legs, neck, hands, and feet from skin tone paper to cover remaining lines. Fold paper and cut two of each figure at once. Arms can be bent, raised or partly hidden. Repeat shapes to unify composition.
  5. Arrange figure and clothing in overlapping layers.
  6. Layer shaped pieces of paper for decoration on the clothing of the figure.
  7. Cut one piece in zig zag and spread pieces to create negative space.
  8. Add object such as tennis racket, toy, flowers, hat, vest, etc.
  9. Glue the figure and clothing in place.
  10. Draw in the facial features with simple lines using oil pastels.
Tips
  • Make a simple collage figure with separate pieces to demonstrate how to arrange the body parts in different positions to show movement.
Variations
  • Show a figure in action, such as kicking a ball or dancing. Make figures that interact, such as two basketball players.
  • Use assorted patterned fabric, wrapping paper, ribbon, buttons, yarn, and rickrack to add texture to the clothing.
  • Make a profile silhouette of each student and add clothing, using fabric and textured paper. To make silhouettes, project a shadow of the student’s profile onto paper taped to a wall. Pose the student in front of the paper and shine a bright light, such as a flashlight or projector light, on his or her profile. The student should be closer to the paper than to the light source. Draw around the contour of the shadow on the paper and cut it out and mount it on contrasting paper, or use white chalk on black paper or black marker on white paper.
  • To simplify project for younger students: Precut colored rectangles, triangles, squares, and circles for clothing.
  • To extend project for older students: Add a second figure, animal, or attribute.

Video


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Student Gallery

Reflections

  • Identify the torso of each figure.
  • Find parts of the collage that show negative space.
  • Look for examples of overlapping shapes.
  • Look for patterns that create rhythm.
  • Identify what part of each figure uses geometric shapes.
  • Identify contrasting colors and warm and cool colors used together.
  • Describe step by step how the artwork was made, emphasizing media and technique.
  • Describe the actual and visual texture in your own work of art.

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