/ Kruizenga Art Museum

Conversation Pieces


Hope College students from the Spring 2020 Education 270 class were asked to choose artworks from the KAM’s exhibition “African American Art from the Kruizenga Museum Collection,” and to write labels relating those artworks to their own thoughts and experiences as teachers in training. Some of the labels were written by individual students; some were written by small groups of students. The students’ label text is displayed below, alongside the corresponding artwork, and includes the students’ names and graduation years. Artworks that were selected by more than one student or group will appear more than once. 

Country Road, Missouri by Henry Bannarn

[Ryan Eder ’23]

The Great Migration has left footprints all over our modern world. Culturally, it ushered in a new wave of art, understanding and education, as well as a new wave of pain, suffering and loss for the African American people. This painting reflects a nostalgic look back at what life once was, but it also does more than that. This painting also represents the unknown of change. The familiar feeling of a dirt road, a modest house and quiet land is fading away for these people. Their new lives lie down the road. In the painting, the road fades away into white, into the unknown. If they choose to follow the road north, their new world will hold many unknowns. Leaving behind what is comfortable might lead them to a world no better than the one they currently live in. The painting represents a leap of faith for this group of people — a group who were ready to fight and leave everything behind for a better life. Their story, just like the painting, remains unfinished.

 "Country Road, Missouri" by Henry Bannarn

Country Road, Missouri by Henry Bannarn

[Jack Slevin ’23, Caleb Van Appledorn ’23, and Caroline Ford ’23]

This painting, created by Henry Bannarn in 1941, shows a simple cottage in rural Missouri near a worn dirt path. It brings a strange comfort to the viewer but also a bit of longing, as the painting lacks people and moving parts besides the single, slow-moving smoke column. However, the path, smoke and the telephone poles are all leading away from the cottage, drawing our eye away from the central focus of the painting, which is the cottage. This may be an allusion to the Great Migration this painting is meant to represent because the Great Migration brought many African-Americans away from their homes. The medium Bannarn uses to create this painting is also fascinating. The way he uses watercolors to create a sweeping, wispy feature really displays the feeling of a fading memory that this became for the African-Americans after many of them migrated to the North. The loose lines that come from the watercolor may represent the unstable and not completely solidified new lives many of the people who migrated may have been experiencing. Overall, Bannarn’s artistic style encapsulates the feelings of comfort, longing, love and uncertainty represented in the painting.


 "Country Road, Missouri" by Henry Bannarn

Country Road, Missouri by Henry Bannarn

[Jack Slevin ’23, Caroline Ford ’23, and Caleb Van Appledorn ’23]

When you first glance at this painting you see a cozy cottage. This cozy cottage was intended to symbolize the sacrifices that African Americans made for hope of a better future. Often times, sacrifices are necessary for the hope of success. Many African Americans left their homes in the Great Migration in hope of finding a job to the North. This picture symbolizes how people come from different backgrounds, and at first glance you likely do not see the whole picture. We often do not know each other's stories, but we tend to judge others based on their image and how they present themselves. This is an important lesson for teachers to keep in mind as they will encounter a variety of students, all unique and each with their own background.

 "Country Road, Missouri" by Henry Bannarn

Bopping at Birdland by Romare Bearden

[Emma Schuman ’23, Jane Stockbridge ’23, and Michaela Peil ’22]

Bopping at Birdland by Romare Bearden can resonate with education in many ways. When looking at this picture, it instantly reminded us of a teacher leading their classroom. The musician, on the left, reminds us of the teacher. They are leading the class and demonstrating their talents/knowledge. The audience, on the right, reminds us of students. They are listening intently to their teacher and trying to obtain the information that is being presented to them. It is not one solo performer onstage, but several. In education it is important to collaborate with others, both as a student and as a teacher. When musicians perform in a band there are several layers of music adding to the texture. When several students or teachers work on a task they all bring something unique to add to the texture of the assignment. This piece incorporates vibrant color throughout, expressing the livelihood and animation that is intended to be present in the classroom. Along with vibrancy, this piece illustrates and celebrates a great amount of diversity within a classroom.

"Bopping at Birdland" by Romare Bearden

Jamming at Minton's By Romare Bearden

[Kelsey Corey ’23]

This print shows off one of the best aspects of education. The first man is obviously playing an instrument, but as the print continues, it is unclear if there are more people and instruments. One could interpret that there are more people playing different instruments or that there is nothing there at all. This highlights one of education’s finest attributes — learning can be interpreted many different ways. Some believe that music is the most important thing to learn while others believe that math and science are most important. All of these things are relevant, but how the student uses the knowledge they learn is key. Using what they learn in math, science, English, music and art to decipher and change the world is what is significant. Every student must take what is given to them in the classroom and carry that out into their lives to change the world. Everybody is taught the same thing in a specific classroom, just like everybody sees the same painting, but it is about how they understand it differently from everybody else that is key.

"Jamming at Minton's" by Romare Bearden

Girls Reading by Elizabeth Catlett

[Katie Anderson ’23 and Vianey Valdez Alcantar ’23]


One of the strongest predictors of student performance on standardized tests is a student’s socio-economic status or class. For students from lower classes, college is seen as a necessity but is priced as a fancy expense, something a lot of low-income families cannot afford and therefore cannot provide to their children when they are ready to go to college.


While it has gotten better in recent years, gender still plays a crucial part in education. Women are typically seen as more maternal and in some cases, they are forced to abandon schooling to help take care of their siblings or help their mothers around the house. For some females, there is also a cultural belief in the importance of family and marriage from a young age. Elizabeth Catlett’s print Girls Reading shows the importance of female role models. When younger girls see older women pushing away the expected and ordinary, like leaving school to marry, the lives of young girls are expanded. Being read to by someone who has made different life choices than expected could result in alternative possibilities.


Stereotypes about race can have a huge effect on students’ success in school. In some cases, students’ parents cannot help their children with homework because they did not go to school or do not understand what the homework is asking. This is especially true for parents who do not speak the language. In the painting, we can see the women reading with the girls and can see how engaged they all are with the reading.

"Girls Reading" by Elizabeth Catlett

Gossip by Elizabeth Catlett

[Amanda Lines ’23]

As an African American woman living at the height of the Civil Rights Movement, Elizabeth Catlett did not live an easy life. She endured various unnecessary hardships that were brought by her own country, similar to minority students in our education system. Race, unfortunately, plays a significant role in the achievement gap of students in America. Students of minority groups have the potential to fall behind early in their education. In addition, minorities are often struck by a low socio-economic status that makes it difficult to provide tutoring or private academic services. Even in the face of this adversity, some minority students find resilience and determination to thrive and bond together in a unique and lasting way. Special friendships, like the ones depicted in this print, are sometimes developed out of these challenging circumstances. I see this print also as a call for advocacy of those who are not in the minority. We must use our voices and improve our actions in order to grow and instigate change in our country.

"Gossip" by Elizabeth Catlett

Pressed Iron Blossom No. 2 by Willie Cole

[Katie Johnson ’23 and Avery Conely ’22]

As future educators, we see more than bright colors making a pretty flower — we see the layers within education that make the system what it is. We know that without all of the layers of support, students would not be as cared for or have as many opportunities available. From the superintendent to their homeroom teacher, students are surrounded by affection and support. Without principals, para-professionals, community members, parents and more, the schools would not be able to run. In this work of art, we also see beauty in simple, minor daily tasks. The use of the iron to create petals relates to the way teachers are able to use even simple, little tasks to shape kids into their best-selves. Ironing is not inherently a beautiful thing, but the artist uses it to create something of beauty. Education may not always be as beautiful and eye catching as this flower, but when you really take the time to appreciate all it has to give, you will see the beauty that lies within it.

"Pressed Iron Blossom No. 2" by Willie Cole

George by Rashid Johnson

[Jessica Whigam, ’23]

This print by Rashid Johnson was made in part to bring awareness to the problem of homelessness. Homelessness is a problem in many places, but is not addressed very often. In the print, the lighting focuses on just him, the background is blurred and the colors make it so nothing else catches your eye. This shows how much effort and time Johnson put into this project. This picture also shows that homeless people are people first. This person was vulnerable enough to let Johnson take a picture and broadcast it for others to see. This is because they both had the same mission to explore the problems of social and economic inequality in America. This is something we often see, but choose to ignore. If we want to help the homeless, we have to teach younger generations about it. Children in schools all over the country experience this problem, but are often too embarrassed to talk about it. When we bring awareness to something like this we can make a huge change.

"George" by Rashid Johnson

Four Figures from the Vogue Series by Marcia Kure

[Kaniya Houston ’23]

Purchased with funds donated by Judith Kingma Hazelton ’56, Marcia Kure’s kola nut pigment and watercolor on paper is a piece of art that emphasizes self-identity. Kure’s work is known for addressing race, gender and cultural identity. It is key that future educators help students figure out their strengths, weaknesses, hobbies and interests so they can better understand themselves. Once a student has a better understanding of him or herself, it helps them figure out their identity, which results in confidence, clarity, decisiveness and comfort. With those characteristics, students will be able to pursue and be successful in whatever profession they choose. All four drawings have something in common, and that is that they are all different from each other. All students will have their differences, and teaching them to embrace their own differences as well as everyone else's will be important for their own growth! A generation of students confident in themselves will be a generation ready to shape society for the better!

"Four Figures from the Vogue Series" by Marcia Kure

III by Lorna Simpson

[Whitney Engelsman ’23 and Cameron Deines ’23]

As future educators, we believe that students are able to make wishes and we are the people who support them to make those wishes come true. Through this artwork we see represented the ability of educators to grant their students “three wishes.” They may wish for what they want to be, where they dream to go, where they want to attend college, a job for their future, an ‘A ’on the next test… Whatever their heart sets for them, as educators we must support and show them that we are here to help them accomplish their wish. In addition, as teachers we must come up with wishes of our own for our students and express them. With the combination of the wishes for and of our students, the wishbone breaks, which is a metaphor for the effort of the student — and teacher — putting in all their power, mind, strength and energy to turn these wishes into reality.

"III" by Lorna Simpson

III by Lorna Simpson

[Paris Patterson ’23 and Danielle Davis ’23]

In this piece, Lorna Simpson chose three wishbones, all made of different materials, to represent the differences people face in regards to opportunities. We interpreted this, from an education standpoint, as saying that while each student may look similar, each student is also unique and special in their own way. In terms of the actual wishbone, what one student who knows they are going home to a warm dinner may wish for, will be extremely different than a student who is unsure if there will be anything at home for them to eat that night. Each student is born into different circumstances, just as these three wishbones are made of different materials. The challenges each student does or does not face does not at all define them, but each challenge does alter their story. Many students are not given the same privilege as others. We believe that discrimination in life, and in the classroom, whether it is based on race, income or other factors should not be tolerable. As students, we have never found ourselves to be identical to the classmate sitting next to us. That is what makes both class and learning more interesting — you are not just learning the curriculum, you get to learn all about your classmates and what makes them who they are, while learning more about yourself. We think teaching is the most rewarding job in the world because of this very idea of celebrating uniqueness. As future teachers, we will be able to recognize and celebrate all of our students, not for their similarities, but for what makes them stand out.

"III" by Lorna Simpson

III by Lorna Simpson

[Aiden Palmer ’23 and Sophia Zavattero ’23]

The three wishbones represent the variety of educational goals that everyone has. These are central to an individual’s education, as it is affected by his or her background and will affect the path taken later in life. Students and their goals are made up of different components, similar to this art piece.

The wishbones are made of different materials, which represent the different levels of educational goals that can be had — those of the general population, those of educators, and those of the individual. The rubber wishbone represents the general population and is more flexible and widely pursued than the other two, such as guaranteeing everyone an education. The ceramic wishbone represents the educators’ goals because, much like ceramics can provide the foundation for a home such as cookware or decorations, teachers provide the foundation of students’ education and much of their everyday life. An example of an educator’s goal is to prepare his or her students for life beyond the classroom. The bronze wishbone represents the individual’s educational goals since it is more unique than the other two materials and more difficult to alter. An example of an individual’s goal for their educational journey would be wanting to come out of a class with a specific set of information or a better understanding of their own creativity.

"III" by Lorna Simpson

Commemorating Every Black Man Who Lives to See Twenty-One by Carrie Mae Weems

[Emma Dodson ’23]

In the eyes of a future educator, Carrie Mae Weems’ work shows underlying messages of social activism in the classroom. As teachers we are not in the outside world with our students — we get them for a portion of the day and during that time the way we treat and educate them can have a big effect on how they live their lives outside of the classroom. As teachers, we have to understand that every student comes in with a different story and that we can help define or shift the way they view the gift of life. This epidemic has not stopped when attention was brought to it in 1992 through this piece — it still continues today, the stereotypes behind black men that sometimes leads to their death. Our job is to educate every student that walks through our doors equally and give everyone the support they deserve.

"Commemorating Every Black Man Who Lives to See Twenty-One" by Carrie Mae Weems

Commemorating Every Black Man Who Lives to See Twenty-One by Carrie Mae Weems

[Mellany Wilkinson ’23]

The classroom is a space where you can grow, learn and safely engage in social activism. This plate, fragile in nature, represents the importance of breaking the racism cycle in our classrooms, neighborhoods and communities. The weight you feel while looking at this piece of art is a burden many of our students carry into the classroom. Education is a multifaceted opportunity for students to increase their awareness of social injustices, find comfort in support and stand up for their beliefs.

"Commemorating Every Black Man Who Lives to See Twenty-One" by Carrie Mae Weems