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Educational Resources

Life, Work, Art!

Elizabeth Catlett, Mis Hijos, 1958

The print Mis Hijos (My Children) is an autobiographical piece, in which Catlett depicts her children playing outdoors in a dynamic and jovial scene. The masks they are holding are those used in the Mexican celebration of Día de Muertos (Day of the Dead), revealing her personal journey as an immigrant.

About Elizabeth Catlett

Objective

Students will learn about the life of Elizabeth Catlett and discuss how artists represent their experiences in their work.

Guiding Prompts

After reading the introductory text and looking at the artwork reproduction, think about:

  • The different places where the artist lived
  • Events in her family and personal history that impacted her life
  • Her choice of subject(s) and theme(s) in her work
  • Historical events happening in her lifetime

Studio Museum print shop with artist Valerie Manyard, 1971

Vocabulary

Depict


To represent by or as if by a picture; to portray; delineate. To represent or characterize in words; describe.


Educator


A person who educates, someone skilled in teaching; a teacher, principal, or other person involved in planning or directing education.


Honor


To regard or treat (someone) with admiration and respect; to regard or treat with honor; to give special recognition to.


Immigrant


A person who travels to another country, usually for permanent residence.


Journey


Something suggesting travel or passage from one place to another, usually taking a rather long time; a trip.


Jovial


Characterized by joyous humor or a spirit of good fellowship.


Subject


Something represented or indicated in a work of art; that which forms a basic matter of thought, discussion, investigation, etc.

Art Project

To help you understand Catlett’s practice, the following is a pared-down version of a printing process.

  • Pencils, one with a very sharp tip and one with a less sharp one
  • 4 × 6 in. Styrofoam sheets
  • Tracing paper
  • 8 1/2 × 11 in. sulphite paper for printing
  • Block printing ink
  • Brayers and inking plates
  • Family or personal photographs for inspiration

Procedure

  • Select a photograph to use as a source image. Look at it carefully and decide what you want to include in your print.
  • Place a piece of tracing paper over the photograph and using the finely sharpened pencil, trace over the people and objects you selected. Keep in mind that broad, open shapes are preferred, as fine lines and small details will not be easily registered in a print.
  • Remove the tracing paper and place it on a hard surface to draw over the lines to make them clear and visible. Flip the tracing paper over and place it on a piece of Styrofoam. This is necessary so the printed image will look like the original.

Procedure

  • Using the pencil with the less sharpened tip, carefully and vigorously trace the drawing again to make an indentation in the Styrofoam. Make sure the lines are deep, and that you can see the overall structure of your drawing well.
  • Carefully place a dollop of ink on the plate and spread it with the brayer. You should have a thin coat of ink on the brayer. Then roll it over the Styrofoam sheet a couple times to make sure it’s covered with ink.
  • Place the inked Styrofoam sheet on your printing paper and press with a clean brayer. Carefully peel off the Styrofoam sheet and place the print in a dry, clean area. You can make a second print on another piece of paper, called a ghost print, with the remaining ink on the Styrofoam.

Studio Museum print shop with artist Valerie Manyard, 1971

Opening Questions

After reading the text, answer the following questions in as much detail as possible:

  • What are some important events in Catlett’s life?
  • Why do you think she made works about women and working people?
  • What is happening in the print? How would you describe the style? What does the scene suggest or remind you of?
  • What aspects of her life is she representing?

In the text find words that are related to ...

  • People:
  • Occupations:
  • Places:
  • Descriptions:
  • Past actions:

Answer Key

  • People: parents, grandparents, women, African Americans, subjects, adults, husband, sons, children
  • Occupations: educators, teacher, artist, student
  • Places: Washington, D.C., university, Iowa, New Orleans, school, Harlem, New York, Mexico, workshop, Mexico City.
  • Descriptions: graduate (art program), working (people), local (artists), Mexican (revolution), future (husband), dynamic (scene), jovial (scene), personal (journey)
  • Past actions: born, were, graduated, planned, led, studied, was, depicted, wanted, dedicated, saw, moved, met, had

Closer Observation

Take a close look at each of the boys in the print:

  • How would you describe their personalities?
  • What do you imagine they are playing?
  • What does their clothing say about them?
  • Take a look at the background and the ground. What kind of place might this be?

Reflection

Think about Elizabeth Catlett’s life and write a paragraph or two about events that have had an impact on your life. What happened? Who was involved? Where did these events happen? How did they influence or motivate you?

Video

Click on the link below to see and hear Elizabeth Catlett talk about her life. Consider how the events she describes shaped her experiences and informed the work that she made as an artist. Feel free to follow along with the transcript.


https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KT3Ir6kfIKM&t=17s


https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Elizabeth_Catlett
https://www.moma.org/artists/1037
https://www.elizabethcatlettart.com/bio
https://whitney.org/artists/4456