Homer in the Bahamas

Grade Level: 5–8

Winslow Homer’s painting of a house in the Bahamas will introduce students to the climate and geography of this island nation. They will then break into groups to research possible pollutants and provide solutions to protect the inhabitants and land. Lastly, they will imagine daily life in the Bahamas by writing a journal entry.

homer-native-huts

Winslow Homer
American, 1836–1910
Native Huts, Nassau, 1885
watercolor, graphite, and gouache on wove paper, 36.8 x 53.5 cm (14 1/2 x 21 1/16 in.)
National Gallery of Art, Collection of Mr. and Mrs. Paul Mellon

 

NAEA Standards

4-C Students analyze, describe, and demonstrate how factors of time and place (such as climate, resources, ideas, and technology) influence visual characteristics that give meaning and value to a work of art.
5-B Students analyze contemporary and historic meanings in specific artworks through cultural and aesthetic inquiry.
6-B Students describe ways in which the principles and subject matter of other disciplines taught in the school are interrelated with the visual arts.

CURRICULUM CONNECTIONS

  • Science (ecology)
  • Language Arts
  • Geography

MATERIALS

WARM-UP QUESTIONS

What type of climate do you think this house is located in? What visual cues make you draw your conclusion?

BACKGROUND

In 1884, Maine artist and illustrator Winslow Homer received a commission from Century Magazine to illustrate an article called “A Midwinter Resort” about Nassau, the port city of the Bahamas. When Homer went to the Bahamas later that year, there were only about 150 visitors at the height of the vacation season. Nassau was just beginning to develop a reputation as a destination for those suffering from illnesses made worse by the cold winters of the Northeast United States.

During the two months he stayed on the island, Homer painted more than thirty watercolors of a variety of subjects, including island architecture, sponge and coral fishing, fruit trees, and the unusual features of the landscape. He was also particularly interested in the day-to-day activities of the island’s black inhabitants. They were former slaves and descendants of slaves brought by English planters to work on plantations, and their lives remained particularly difficult. In Native Huts, Nassau, Homer illustrated the thatched house of a black family. This style of building had been transplanted from Africa and was, according to a contemporary account, “the most sensible house covering for this climate.” The house was elevated to avoid being flooded during storms. Wooden shutters protected it from strong winds and heavy rain. The shutters could be closed to keep out warm air during the hottest part of the day and opened in the cooler mornings and nights.

Native Huts, Nassau is painted in watercolor on paper. Light washes of color allow the texture of the paper to show through. In some places, the paper is not painted at all, so that its whiteness—not paint—creates the highlights of brilliant tropical sunlight.

GUIDED PRACTICE

  • Using a world map, have students answer the following questions: Where are the Bahamas located? What kinds of landforms are they? What kind of climate do the Bahamas have? (Two clues are the proximity of the islands to the equator and the palm tree seen in the painting. Use the “Climates Around the World” map to assist students.)
  • What factors of their geography and climate make the Bahamas a popular vacation spot? In 1885, when Homer traveled to the Bahamas, what transportation would he have used to get to the port city of Nassau? (Boat) What about today? What about Nassau’s geography makes it welcoming to boats? (Inlets that are deep and sheltered from wind and rough seas.)
  • People often use natural resources that are plentiful and nearby for building materials. Many tropical locations have palm trees. How have palm trees been used in the building of this house? (Leaves for thatched roof.) Why are wooden shutters appropriate for houses in a tropical area? (To protect from strong winds, heat, and rain; to help control interior temperature.) Why would the house be up on blocks? (To keep it dry during floods and storms.)
  • Some residents of the house are visible just inside the door. What are some of the daily activities you think they might do, based on the climate, natural resources, and geography of the island?
  • In Native Huts, Winslow Homer occasionally allowed the white of the paper to show through the watercolor. Where can you see this? (The sky, the sand.) Why do you think he chose these areas? (They are where the reflections are brightest.)

ACTIVITY

Students will break into smaller groups to conduct research in order to answer the following questions:

  1. Do you see any pollution in this scene?
  2. What kind of pollution could affect an environment like this?
  3. What are ways you could protect beaches and waterways if you lived in the Bahamas?

The following resources are a good start:

The Environmental Protection Agency’s “Learn the Issues” about pollution.

The United States Geologic Survey site offers satellite images of environmental change and descriptions of issues affecting particular locations.

National Geographic's website includes hundreds of science and geography lesson plans for fifth and sixth graders. The site also features printable maps, photographs, online exhibitions, and games.

EXTENSION

Individually, students will write a journal entry imagining daily life in the Bahamas. They may choose to write about their experience in either the present day or the time this painting was created (1885). In picturing themselves in this setting, they should consider the following questions: How would the climate affect what you wear? what you eat? the kinds of outdoor activities you would enjoy? Based on the geography and natural resources of the Bahamas, what kinds of jobs are available on the islands?

Related Resources

Borrow the teaching packet Art&

Pair clothing with regional climates in a matching game from The National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences

Access activities, curriculum resources, and information that relate art, science, and the environment from the Environmental Protection Agency

View satellite images of environmental change and descriptions of issues affecting particular locations from the United States Geologic Survey site

Browse hundreds of science and geography lesson plans for fifth and sixth graders through the National Geographic's website

Contact

Questions or comments? E-mail us at classroom@nga.gov