Parrot Painted by M Street High School Student

Anacostia Community Museum

About the work

The vibrant colors of a parrot’s plumage would have been bold and clear to art students observing a real bird in their classroom at the M Street High School in early twentieth-century Washington, DC. The bird is just one example of actual flora and fauna incorporated into the art curriculum by educators like Thomas W. Hunster (1851-1929) in his role as Director of Drawing for the Black public schools in the District’s segregated system. The living creatures served not only as subjects for students’ portraits, but also to teach drawing and painting as avenues to critical thinking. Professor Hunster taught students to use their eyes in conjunction with their hands to see, draw, and analyze their environment. He encouraged them to find inspiration in ordinary objects, whether a building within a streetscape, or local plants and animals. The parrot is thought to have been painted by a classmate of career educator and artist William N. Buckner, Jr. (1888-1984), a pupil and friend of Professor Hunster, Both sides of the paper were painted, a common practice due to the expense of materials. The opposite side depicts the season’s last red berries clinging to a seed pod on a leafy magnolia branch.

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