UK schools have been celebrating Black History Month since 1987 – and we were delighted to take part this year in the work being undertaken by Someries Infants in Luton.

Year 1 and 2 children had been looking at the lives and achievements of two pioneers in their fields – Mary Seacole (nursing) and Matthew Henson (polar exploration) – and we were asked to help the pupils pull their learning together and use it to inspire some innovative artworks. And the artworks themselves, of course, speaking of determination in the face of adversity and of humanity in the face of inhumanity, would inspire the visitors to the school who saw them.

During the first two days of our visit we were able to take advantage of the school’s amazing Immersive Space (designed and installed by our friends at 4D creative). Inspired by backdrops ranging from the Crimean peninsula to the Arctic circle, the children participated in a range of creative activities (including both visual arts and drama), all designed to develop and cement their learning. We then moved back into classrooms, harnessing all the knowledge gained to design and create four huge pieces of art …

The Landscapes of Mary Seacole

Mary was a much travelled woman – growing up in Jamaica, she lived and worked in South America for a while before returning to the Caribbean and then heading for Russia, via England! CS Lewis class (Year 1) celebrated her voyages and independence by drawing on collage techniques used by Eric Carle to create a monumental series of eight landscapes, each representing a different stage of her life.

Mary Seacole and the “Why?” Question

When asked why she did what she did, Mary’s answer was instructive in its simplicity. “I thought it my duty,” she said. So Beatrix Potter class (Year 1) used decoupage techniques to decorate 3D letters spelling out the phrase – with colours, patterns and textures all carefully selected to represent what was important to Mary.

Following in the Footsteps of Matthew Henson

Matthew wasn’t just the first black man to reach the North Pole – as a member of the successful 1909 expedition, he was one of the very first people to get there at all! Pupils in Christopher Columbus class (Year 2) each created their own “Matthew Footprint”, featuring both a hand drawn image of the explorer and key facts about his life. And, as we were careful enough to generate equal numbers of left and right footprints, these have now been put together to create a Visitor Trail!

Matthew Henson – Mahri Paluk

Matthew was keen to learn techniques of polar survival from the local Inuit people he met on his expeditions. He was also the only member of the team to master the Inuit language – and was rewarded by being granted the title “Mahri Paluk” – or “The Kind One”. In recognition of this special relationship, the children in Amelia Earhart class (Year 2) created masks based on traditional Inuit designs and bearing some of their learning.

“The artwork our children produced looks brilliant! Thank you for your workshops - the children and staff thoroughly enjoyed them!” (Michael Scott, Assistant Headteacher, Someries Infant School)

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