What draws me to the Charlotte Mason Educational philosophy is that it encourages one to live a life of awareness and gratitude. Ambleside Online(a website dedicated to her teaching and helping individuals implement it) describes her this way, “CM was a British educator in the late 1880’s who believed that education was about more than training for a job, passing an exam, or getting into the right college. She said education was an atmosphere, a discipline, and a life; it was about finding out who we were and how we fit into the world of human beings and into the universe God created.“(emphasis mine)
First and foremost, she saw the child as an image bearer of God and not an empty vessel to merely fill. “She thought children should do the work of dealing with ideas and knowledge, rather than the teacher acting as a middle man, dispensing filtered knowledge. A Charlotte Mason education includes first-hand exposure to great and noble ideas through books in each school subject, and through art, music and poetry,” Ambleside Online writes.
On my second day of the Charlotte Mason conference at Gardner Webb University, one of the lecturers asked each one present to turn to their neighbor and tell them what had impacted them the most thus far. So, i turned to my friend and simply said, “I am grateful for the reminder that beauty and redemption are worth fighting for. For myself and specifically for my children.” This was given to me the night before while attending a lecture on how to take your children through an artist study. So, began my introduction to Henry Ossawa Tanner.
As i sat in the auditorium for the last seminar on my first conference day, i was just thankful that the lights were low and i could doze off if need be. I was exhausted and mentally full. Which was fine because though unaware at the moment, what i was about to experience was going to touch and fill my spirit and soul. And it was desperately needed.
The artist study lecturer did something fascinating. She paralleled Tanner’s life and painting to what was going on in our country at the same time in the realm of culture and politics. This highlighted that his life had more purpose and meaning than he could have ever imagined or dreamed.
Henry Ossawa Tanner was born in Philadelphia, 1859 which was just a few years before the Civil War. Though he was born into an affluent and intellectual African-American family, they were not unaffected by racism and prejudice. So, as Tanner grew up as an artist, his paintings were an effort to break stereotypes of the AA culture and to use allegories from Scripture that resembled the plight of the Negro.
One biographer writes this about Ossawa and one of his more recognizable paintings called “The Banjo Lesson.”
“In 1893 most American artists painted African-American subjects either as grotesque caricatures or sentimental figures of rural poverty. Henry Ossawa Tanner, who sought to represent black subjects with dignity, wrote: “Many of the artists who have represented Negro life have seen only the comic, the ludicrous side of it, and have lacked sympathy with and appreciation for the warm big heart that dwells within such a rough exterior.”
Tanner tackles this stereotype head on, portraying a man teaching his young protegé to play the instrument – the large body of the older man lovingly envelops the boy as he patiently instructs him. If popular nineteenth-century imagery of the African-American male had divested him of authority and leadership, then Tanner in The Banjo Lesson recreated him in the role of father, mentor, and sage. The Banjo Lesson is about sharing knowledge and passing on wisdom.”
Later in Tanner’s painting career, he began to feel called to do “Religious Art with Excellence.” He used his deep abiding faith in God to draw from as he tried to communicate to others the beauty of perseverance and biblical hope.
“The Escape from Egypt” was inspired by his leaving America where he endured lots of racism and was never considered a true artist because of his skin color. One story was told of him being dragged out of his home at night by white men, tied to his artist’s easel, and left in the middle of the street. So, Tanner went to Europe in order to study art.
One of my favorites is “The Disciples see Christ Walking on Water.”
Tanner went on to receive acclaim that was unprecedented for an African-American artist in Europe and America. His perseverance through hardship and being misunderstood moved me to tears as i saw how he chose to use his life as one to create beauty and believe in the redemption of God instead of returning evil for evil. There was great value and purpose in his suffering. None of it was wasted in the economy of God. His life and testimony renewed my spirit, and made me realize that those things are worth fighting for. For myself and for my children.
Romans 8:28-30 NLT
“And we know that God causes everything to work together for the good of those who love Him and are called according to his purpose. For God knew his people in advance, and he chose them to become like his Son, so that his Son would be the firstborn among many brothers and sisters. Having chosen them, he called them to come to him. And having called them, he gave them right standing with himself. And having given them right standing, he gave them His glory.”