Maryland’s Limners

Possible Classroom Concepts: Social Studies – Colonial History (Trades, Slavery), Black History

Science –  Plant/Animal Classification

Possible Art Concepts: Art History – Charles Wilson Peale, Joshua Johnson, Gustavus Hesselius, John Singleton Copley,  Benjamin West, John Hesselius

Portraits, Portrait Painters (Limners), Proportion

It’s so exciting, Mrs. Hahn, the art teacher and creator of the wonderful Mini Matisse Blog has decided to create an interactive U.S. artist map. The goal is to be able to click on a state and find information or a lesson for one or more artists who hail from that state. What a great resource it will be. I looked on Hahn’s site today and there are already twenty submissions for the map. Check it out here. She is asking fellow art teachers for some help. As retired art teacher, I would love to contribute.

I hail from Maryland, so I thought I would begin there. In my teaching days, fifth grade students studied Colonial America. Some of the concepts they investigated were Colonial trades. Portrait painting was one of those trades. These portrait painters were called limners. It just so happens that two accomplished portrait painters, Charles Willson Peale and Joshua Johnson, were born in Maryland.


Charles Willson Peale’s “The Artist In His Museum

Charles Willson Peale was born in Chester, Maryland. Many portrait painters of his time were self taught. However, Peale studied a bit under Gustavus HesseliusJohn Singleton Copley and Benjamin West. Peale painted portraits of many prominent people of his time, including more than a dozen George Washington portraits. He painted over 771 portraits in his career. He loved art so much that he named many of his 17 children after famous artists.  The Ninja Turtles are not the only ones named after famous artists. Peale also knew a bit about the following trades: saddle making, engraving, and clock repair. On top of this, he was also interested in science.


Charles Willson Peale’s “The Exhumation of the Mastodon

After Charles Willson Peale created a history painting depicting the unearthing of mastodon bones, he began collecting many scientific artifacts and eventually opened the first natural history museum, that changed locations several times.  It was once even located on the second floor of Independence Hall in Philadelphia, PA. (So, Peale could also be included on Pennsylvania’s map.)  His museum was different from the others of his time. Artifacts were not exhibited like Ripley’s Believe It Or Not, but organized the way Carl Linnaeus, a scientist of the time, classified plants and animals. So, if you are studying animal classification in science, you could give Peale a mention. To learn more about this amazing artist/scholar and see more examples of his paintings look here.


“Joshua Johnson”s The Westwood Children”

Joshua Johnson/Johnston was the first recorded professional African American portrait painter. He was born in Maryland a slave and was emancipated in 1782. Johnson was self taught. You can find some excellent Colonial portrait lessons highlighting Joshua Johnson and John Hesselius (Son of Gustavus Hesselius who taught Charles Willson Peale) here. Through observing portraits by these two artists, students can observe how slaves and girls were treated differently than a male heir. The props included in these portraits are also intriguing. I love the idea for students to create a self portrait, including props and a background to show the way they would like to be remembered in the future. Menlo Park’s Art Studio has an awesome chart to help your student’s create proportional faces for their portraits and can be found here. Or you could leave a cut out where the face goes and let students stand behind them for photo ops like this teacher did.

I hope you agree that Charles Willson Peale and Joshua Johnson would be valuable additions to your classroom or art room lessons. Have you taught these artists in your classroom? I’d love to hear how. Simply click on the title of this post and scroll down to the comment section. If you like what you’ve seen here, please feel free to toss me a “like” or better still become a follower.

Hope to see you again real soon!


  1. Lynn Goff · April 13, 2017

    The interactive map is such a wonderful concept. Check out Ohio and Michelle Stitzlein. Amazing stuff! Thank you for posting this!


  2. criscophebes · April 13, 2017

    Imagine what a valuable resource this will be when complete!


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