Portraits of America for Black History Month, South Allegheny Students Learn as They Create

Article excerpt

Scenes from the lives of accomplished African-Americans with ties to Pennsylvania are being re-created in a unique celebration of Black History Month at South Allegheny High School.

Thirty-six students in an eighth-grade art class were each assigned a famed person in art, sports, civil rights, medicine and other fields to research and paint.

The depiction had to be in a signature setting of the person, and done in the style of esteemed African-American artist Jacob Lawrence (1917-2000).

"He is a painter that a lot of teachers like to use because he is more impressionistic than realistic," explained art teacher Ellen Eyth.

"It gives those not naturally good at [art] a release, as there is not pressure to make the portrait look like the person."

"He didn't use many colors, and he wasn't trying to make everything perfect, but he still got his point across," Bret Bowling, 14, of Liberty said of the artist's appeal.

Bret is studying Martin Robinson Delaney (1812-85), one of the first three blacks admitted to Harvard Medical School, and who treated patients in Pittsburgh in the 1800s.

He will depict the doctor in a black coat beside a U.S. flag based on an online photograph of the abolitionist and physician who was the first African-American field officer in the U.S. Army during the Civil War.

Kirsten Whitaker, 13, is painting Billie Holiday (1915-59), who was born in Philadelphia 99 years ago.

The Glassport girl said she will use her imagination to portray the celebrated jazz vocalist performing on stage during a European concert.

Derek Lockhart, 14, of Liberty was assigned basketball player Wilt Chamberlain, (1936-99) who was also from Philadelphia, and who is the only player to score 100 points in a National Basketball Association game. …