African American Art and Collage at Conservatory Lab

To celebrate Black History Month, Conservatory Lab is featuring African American scholars, artists, and leaders that will inspire our students.  


Art Teacher José Santiago creates videos, slideshows, and a newsletter every month to share with students and their families with a newsletter he calls “The Art Room!” Like many other teachers at Conservatory Lab, Santiago provides multiple ways to access resources so students have more opportunities to learn.  



For February, Santiago created a project inspired by African American artist, Romare Bearden, who created large scale mixed-media collages reminiscent of quilts. Students watched a video from San Francisco Museum of Modern Art (SFMOMA)  in which Bearden shared how he was inspired by the rhythm of row-houses in Philadelphia to create visual sonatas, and Santiago prepared a video showing techniques that Conservatory Lab students can employ to make a collage of buildings like Bearden’s. 


A collage is a piece of art made by sticking various different materials such as photographs and pieces of paper or fabric onto a backing. The word of the month is Abstract: it refers to art that does not attempt to represent external reality but instead creates an effect using lines, shapes, forms, and textures. Bearden’s work combines abstract forms to create an impression of what he observes that does not look realistic. In addition to collage and oil painting, Bearden created cartoons. 


Romare Bearden was both an artist and an author. He wrote a history of African American Art that was finally published in 1993.  In the 1960s, he was part of a group of artists called the Spiral, in Harlem, New York, who discussed the responsibility of African American artists to be active in the Civil Rights movement.  



Sample of Bearden’s work


This month the Art Room Newsletter project takes collage techniques to the next level. In addition to cutting out shapes from paper and scraps, you can add a spin by using paint and oil pastels to emphasize different forms. If you do a collage at home, we’d love it if you could post a photo on social media with the tag #CLCScollage and post it to social media.

To create your own Romare Bearden Building collage at home you will need:

  • Paper
  • Scissors
  • Glue sticks
  • Magazines or Newspapers
  • Fabric or other scraps
  • Oil pastel
  • Tempera paint
  1. Look out your window for inspiration and sketch some shapes you see.
  2. Cut out basic shapes for your buildings using the shapes you identified.
  3. Use a glue stick to attach the basic shapes to the paper.
  4. Add details to make an abstract rhythm like Bearden’s “Sonata.”
  5. Use paint to enhance details or draw attention to the important parts of your picture.  

If you want to see a painting by Bearden up close, there is one on view at the Harvard Art Museums in Cambridge at 32 Quincy Street.  

The Museum of Fine Arts owns two prints by Bearden, but they are not currently on view. View them online here.

Check out what our students created in “The Art Room” here or below!