Petworth Pictures America

Petworth Library

Petworth Pictures America

Picturing AmericaAs part of the Picturing America program (an initiative by the National Endowment for the Humanities), we have been fortunate to receive several high-quality, laminated posters of American masterpieces.  Using visual thinking strategies alongside these reproductions, we have had several successful and fun Picturing America programs at the Petworth branch and in some of our  neighborhood schools.

A February program commemorating Abraham Lincoln's 200th birthday combined West Elementary fourth graders, Alexander Gardner's 1865 portrait of Abraham Lincoln and a sheet cake (graciously provided by DCPL).  Students discussed the Lincoln portraits, noticing details such as Lincoln's dress, posture and facial expression as well as characteristics of the portrait (such as what is in focus, why his hands are blurry in the photo, etc.).  We then talked about how our observations reflect Lincoln's life and our nation's history: for example, in the photo Lincoln appears tired and aged beyond his 55 years, which is not surprising given what he had accomplished by this point in his presidency. 

We looked at more presidential portraits throughout history (including that of our then recently-inaugurated president, Barack Obama) and determined what makes a photo "presidential."  The students also enjoyed looking at political cartoons and how they have historically depicted our presidents.  For fun, we read Mike Reiss' The Boy Who Looked Like Lincoln, a hilarious tale of a boy who looks just like Abe Lincoln.  To finish, we created our own political cartoons and enjoyed cake.

Since the February program, we've had other Picturing America programs featuring works such as Romare Bearden's The Dove, Quilts of the 19th and 20th centuries, and pottery and baskets.  We have also received a set of books from the National Endowment for the Humanities that connect to our poster collection; I'm excited to include these titles in Picturing America programs in the future.  If you would like to learn more or would like to bring a group of students to the library for a Picturing America program, please contact or 202-541-6296.