Fireflies: November Masterpieces: Henry Bacon and Jennie Brownscombe         

Nov 19, 2012

November Masterpieces: Henry Bacon and Jennie Brownscombe

Landing of the Pilgrims 
by Henry A. Bacon, 1877, oil on canvas

Can you image what it would be like to land on the shores of a new land, far from your home, with no cell phone, little food, no shelter, no heat, indoor plumbing, or air conditioning, with no idea where in the world you were?  How would you feel?  Excited?  Scared?  Cold?  Lonely?  Surviving a very rough boat trip and experiencing a very challenging first winter, the Pilgrims' story of courage and perseverance inspires American hearts and is an important part of our heritage. 
The First Thanksgiving, Plymouth,
Jennie Augusta Brownscombe,
1914, oil on canvas

The Pilgrim's First Thanksgiving of 1621 at Plymouth is not recorded with photos; however, this painting by Jennie Brownscombe painted in 1914, 300 years since that major event, is a beautiful and historic reminder of the Pilgrim's story, God's grace, and the importance of thankfulness.

Young students are used to colorful animations, cartoon drawings, and perky graphics. Here are some questions and activities to get them engaged with these historic paintings:

1.   How would you feel if you arrived in a new land with no phone, air conditioning or heat, running water, bathroom facilities, house, job, food? (Answers will vary.)

2.  Notice the colors in these photos.  What colors do you see?  Are they bright or dreary?  Do you think they reflect how the Pilgrims felt?  (Neutral colors, greys, blues, browns, golds, greens.  The colors are drab and somewhat dreary, perhaps reflecting the somber tone of the paintings.  The top painting is a little brighter, showing expectancy with formality.)

 3.  Do you think the Pilgrims/Pilgrim children in these paintings were scared? What do you do when you are scared? (Hide, pray, run to parents, cry, freeze, etc.)  Draw something you are afraid of. (Notice the colors they use and what they are trying to communicate.  Art is a powerful tool that can help children express their thoughts and emotions long before they can fully express themselves with words.)

 4.  In the first painting, we feel a sense of movement along with the feeling of expectancy with formality.  The oars are up, and the young girl, Mary Chilton, is getting off the boat.  You can almost feel the cold wind and the boat rocking with the waves against the rocks!  In the second painting, we feel a sense of stillness and reverence as everyone is still and praying.  Even though the color schemes are similar giving a tone of somberness, one painting shows movement and the other shows stillness. Which painting do you like better?   Why?

Relax and watch your little ones engage with you through these important historical paintings as you dig deeper with them!  Your engagement with the paintings and curiosity about the masterpieces and their subject matter will be contagious.  They take their cues from us as their teachers, parents, authorities, so if you get excited about the Pilgrims and this elegant historic art, they will too!  I hope it is meaningful to you and yours.  And, by the way, happy thanksgiving; I am so grateful for you readers!  Blessings to you and yours, and stay tuned for our super-fun masterpiece connection/response activity in our next post!

Laura Bird Miller
Artist/K-12 art instructor
Orlando, Florida

Laura Bird Miller -


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