Lawrence was inspired by the patterns he saw all around him in Harlem. Conduct a “neighborhood pattern search.” Draw three different patterns found in your neighborhood (for example: buildings, architectural details such as windows and doors, street lights, street signs, crowds, or cars).
Study how Lawrence created pattern in Panel No. 23. Which colors and shapes does he repeat?
Lawrence developed a visual language based on simplified shapes that form the gestures of his subjects. Study Lawrence’s use of shape and gesture in The Migration Series. Identify some of the essential gestures in Panel No. 1 such as the tilt of the figures rushing to catch their train. Draw or cut out simplified shapes that convey these poses.
Using tempera paint, Lawrence painted in bright matte colors. After completing a line drawing, Lawrence would paint one color at a time. He used this process to create rhythm in his compositions. Try this technique.
Research your family history and write stories about coming to the United States or migrating from one place to another. Interview family members.
Pretend to be someone who has migrated or immigrated to a new place. List ten things to pack in a suitcase if moving to a new place. Why is each item important?
How would it feel to leave your home and friends behind? How would it feel to be in a strange new place where you don’t know anyone? Write journal entries about the experiences and feelings you might have.
Find Langston Hughes’s poem “One-Way Ticket,” 1948, and compare to Lawrence’s visual depiction of migration. Do they have the same message? The same tone?
Lawrence didn’t call himself a “historical painter,” but regarded The Migration Series as “a portrait of myself, a portrait of my community.” Discuss how The Migration Series was personal. Research Lawrence’s biography to find parallels to students’ family stories.
Panel Nos. 1 and 23 of The Migration Series show scenes of railway stations. Map the route of the “Great Migration” from a town in the South to one of the three cities identified in Panel No. 1—Chicago, New York, St. Louis.
Have students place Panel No. 1 from The Migration Series by Lawrence in the context of racial issues in the United States in the 1930s and 40s. After discussing Jim Crow laws and other forms of discrimination and segregation, students could decide if there were an alternative form of transportation to trains for African Americans migrating North. What were the costs? How did segregation affect travel?
Compare and contrast how the migration of people is similar and different to the migration of animals.
To understand the relationship between city patterns and city rhythms, discuss how Lawrence created “quick” rhythms by placing small shapes close together, and often on the diagonal. Have students listen to different jazz compositions and draw their rhythms in lines and shapes.
Create a play about migration. Looking at Panel Nos. 1 and 23, develop a cast of characters and a setting. Then perform and improvisational play about the experience of migrating. How do different family members respond to the anticipation, excitement, and stress of moving?