Blackboard by Winslow Homer, 1877
This is the other picture my friend wanted me to write about it. I have never found anyone who didn't love this painting.
According to the National Gallery of Art, where this watercolor resides, scholars were long perplexed about the shapes on the blackboard, whose corner holds Homer's signature in "chalk." Art historians have since discovered that the shapes signify that the young woman is teaching "drawing," which was considered a necessity for children, since it enabled industrial design and construction of buildings and presumbably also furniture.
The composition echoes the shapes on the blackboard in the angularity of the teacher's apron and the checks of the gingham, the stacked rectangles of the background, the symmetrical placement of the blackboard and teacher, and the slate monochrome of the entire painting. The one contrast is the teacher's fresh and very young face. In fact, so young does her expression seem that if she were not holding the pointer, we would think she was a student.
In Schoolwomen of the Prairies and Plains by Mary Hurlbut Cordier, I have found documented confirmation of the reality of Homer's painting and feel as though I have found this teacher herself. Cordier tells us of one E. Mary Lacy of Iowa:
At age fourteen, E. Mary Lacy attended a four-week teachers' institute in Emmetsburg, Iowa: "New subjects were being introduced, one of which was drawing. It was here that I received my first lessons and though I never became proficient, it was encouraging to know that I had a certain amount of ability." The following spring, 1877, when she was just past fifteen, she started teaching school eight miles from home.