The Maier Museum of Art
at Randolph College

Art & SOL Tour: People, Places, and Ideas in American Art (Grade 5)

The Maier Museum of Art at Randolph College has an impressive collection of 19th through 21st century American art. These works provide diverse visual expressions of our cultural heritage. Discover how American artists have portrayed people, places and ideas. Experience how art affects us individually, and contributes to our understanding of the world.

Pre-Tour & Post-Tour Materials COMING SOON!

Standards of Learning addressed:

Art: 5.18 5.19, 5.21, 5.25, 5.26, 5.27, 5.28, 5.29, 5.31
English: 5.1
History and Social Science: VS.1, VS.1a, VS.2c, VS.6, VS.7a, USI.1, VUS.1

GALLERY 1: 1800 – 1850
Highlights: early portraiture, early landscapes

Early portraiture
From colonial times into the nineteenth century, art was a luxury for most Americans. For those with the means and desire to buy art, portraits preserved the likenesses of family members and community leaders. This gallery contains a portrait of Mrs. Polly Hooper by Gilbert Stuart, who also painted several portraits of George Washington, the most famous of which is reproduced on the dollar bill.

Early landscapes
For early American landscape artists, the seemingly endless expanse of the American wilderness symbolized the country’s potential for greatness. Hudson River School artists Thomas Cole, Asher Durand and John Frederick Kensett led the way with paintings of panoramic views rendered with precise detail. These serene and awe inspiring vistas, in which a small figure often communes with nature, were intended to evoke elevated thoughts and feelings as well as immense pride in America. Virginia artist Flavius Fisher paints a luminous depiction of Virginia’s Dismal Swamp.

GALLERY 2: 1850 – 1910
Highlights: American Impressionism, Developments in Portraiture

American Impressionism: painting with light
During and following the Civil War American artists adopted many styles of European art to an unprecedented degree as they flocked there to study in the famous academies. Deriving their style from French Impressionists, the American Impressionists used loose brushstrokes and pastel colors to capture the effects of sunlight and atmosphere. They painted outdoors instead of in the studio, in order to directly capture the quality of light. They were not concerned with rendering precise details, but instead wanted to capture the impression of a moment in time.

Developments in portraiture
Portraiture by Thomas Eakins, William Merritt Chase, and Marion Boyd Allen convey more information about their subjects’ personalities and professions than do the earlier portraits from Gallery 2, in which depicting the sitter’s likeness in a pleasing manner was usually the sole objective.

GALLERY 3: 1910 – 1950
Highlights: Ashcan School, Regionalism, Harlem Renaissance/Ethnic Identity, Abstraction, Conceptual Art

The Ashcan School
In the early twentieth century, a group of New York artists including Robert Henri, George Bellows, and John Sloan, reacted against the genteel subject matter of Impressionism. These painters came to be called the Ashcan School or New York Realists. They replaced idyllic country sides and leisure class interiors with urban themes. Henri’s straightforward portrait of young Tom differs dramatically from Frederick Carl Frieseke’s Impressionist rendering of a beautiful woman lounging in her elegant sunlit boudoir in Gallery 3.

Ethnic identity
Jacob Lawrence, one of America’s best-known African-American artists, looked back to the Civil War era for inspiration when he created John Brown’s Arsenal, depicting the famous Harper’s Ferry, Virginia, uprising in an unexpected way. Lawrence grew up in Harlem during the Harlem Renaissance of the 1920s, an arts movement that was inspired by the Ashcan School and sought to combine realism, ethnic consciousness, and Americanism.

Regionalism was also philosophically related to the Ashcan School and arose in the 1930s. Rejecting abstraction, Regionalists were especially devoted to capturing scenes of rural life. They felt the places and people of America’s heartland truly captured the American spirit. Their outlook has often been linked to the country’s isolationism between World War I and World War II. Thomas Hart Benton was the most vocal proponent of Regionalism and his painting Preparing the Bill illustrates a distinctly American scene.

Abstraction: the beginnings of a uniquely American style
Georgia O’Keeffe, probably the most famous American woman artist, and her colleague Arthur Dove were part of a modern approach to making art and created some of the early abstractions that led to what is widely considered the first purely American art style, free from European influence: Abstract Expressionism.

Conceptual Art: by contemporary artist Hans Haacke
Art that emphasizes ideas as much as, or more than, the physical product. Conceptual artists believe that the idea is as much a work of art as the finished piece. Hans Haacke is a world renowned conceptual artist who came to campus to install an exhibition in fall 2016. He addresses many ideas in his work including funding for the arts, which is explored in a maquette that he created for a large sculpture called Gift Horse. A maquette is a French term that refers to the scale model that is 3-dimensional that a sculptor makes before creating the larger, finished sculpture.


Suggested Vocabulary

Familiarizing the students with the following vocabulary will help in preparing them for the tour. Definitions are written on a level intended for the teacher.


museum: an institution dedicated to the collection, care, study, and display of works of art, history, and natural science as objects of lasting value or interest

gallery: a room or building devoted to the exhibition of works of art

label: a small card describing a work of art, usually attached to the wall next to the artwork

school: a “school” of artists is a group of individuals linked often geographically and always philosophically. Artists in a “school” or “movement” share the same approach toward technique and/or share a similar attitude regarding the purpose of making art. Sometimes a school’s philosophy is very much in synch with attitudes in society, other times a school of artists can be at odds with the rest of society.


portrait: a painting, sculpture, drawing, or other representation of a specific, recognizable person

self-portrait: a portrait depicting the artist who created it

landscape: an artistic representation of natural inland scenery

cityscape: an artistic representation of a city scene

seascape: an artistic representation of an ocean scene

abstraction: an artwork which may depict only vaguely identifiable forms or which does not feature recognizable forms at all. In other words, when you look at abstract art you often cannot tell “what it is.”

sculpture: a three-dimensional work of art

sketch: an unstudied or spontaneous drawing or painting usually used as a draft for a finished painting or sculpture

still-life: a picture consisting predominantly of a grouping of objects

realism: to represent the external world in an objective and factual manner

representational: to represent recognizable images, but not necessarily factually or realistically. The opposite of abstract.

folk art: works usually done by a self-taught artists. Also sometimes called “naïve” art.


primary: the pure colors of red, blue, and yellow which are the source for all other colors

secondary: the colors formed by mixing primary colors; the colors orange, violet and green obtained by mixing

primary colors: red and yellow = orange, red and blue = violet, yellow and blue = green

complementary: each primary color has a complementary color which is produced by mixing the other two primary colors. The complementary color of red is green, a mixture of blue and yellow. The complementary color of blue is orange, a mixture of red and yellow. The complementary color of yellow is violet, a mixture of red and blue. Red and green are opposite to each other on the color wheel, as are blue and orange, and yellow and violet. One complementary color completes and intensifies its complementary color.


two-dimensional: possessing the measurements of length and width but lacking thickness or depth

three-dimensional: possessing the measurements of length, width, and thickness; a solid surrounded by space

foreground: the part of a picture which appears closest to the viewer

middle ground: the part of a picture between the foreground and the background

background: the part of a picture representing what lies behind objects in the foreground or middle ground


The following terms will enrich an understanding of the unique progression of American art as trends influence and sometimes blend with one another. These “isms” are not essential vocabulary for your Art & SOL tour.

Hudson River School
The first group of American landscape painters emerged in the 1820s and became known as the Hudson River School because many of them painted in and around the Hudson River Valley and the nearby Catskill and Adirondack Mountains. This was the first coherent American art movement, in the sense that the artists involved shared a similar outlook and approach to making art. They depicted panoramic scenes in precise detail, and regarding nature as a spiritual resource.

The pervasive glow of sunlight in a landscape is characteristic of Luminism, a trend among mid-nineteenth-century artists who saw light as landscape’s most important binding ingredient as well as a symbol of divine presence.

Impressionists shared a style of painting that did not hide the brushstroke nor blobs of paint on the surface. To them, light was even more important than it had been to the earlier Luminists. In fact, for many Impressionists, capturing the quality of light, often shimmering and diffused, was more important than the subject of their painting.

Artists led by Thomas Hart Benton used a robust style to celebrate ordinary working people and the rhythms of rural American life, politics, and society.

Ashcan School (also known as New York Realism or The Eight)
A group of painters and illustrators interested in capturing the gritty atmosphere of urban scenes and details of the lives of ordinary working people.

Harlem Renaissance
A movement of the 1920s that marked the first period of intense activity by African-Americans in the fields of literature, visual art and music. The center of this movement was the Harlem neighborhood of New York City.