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The Freedom Wall, 2017—by John Baker, Julia Bottoms, Chuck Tingley, and Edreys Wajed—on the corner of Michigan Avenue and East Ferry Street. Photograph by MK Photo.

Freedom Wall Diptychs

Inspired by the AK Public Art Project The Freedom Wall, 2017

Grade Level: 9–12

Key Connections: African-American History / Drawing

Conceptual Basis

The goal of this lesson is to increase awareness of human rights activists in the Civil Rights movement by looking at who gets to write history and what stories we are familiar with. Students will investigate The Freedom Wall by researching and exploring the stories of the 28 figures represented. They will use this research to create a diptych, in which they explore both a familiar and a new activist.

Please note: This is intended as a cross-curricular lesson. The library/media specialist teacher is a necessary partner to aid with research for this art lesson.

Featured Work

John Baker, Julia Bottoms, Chuck Tingley, and Edreys Wajed
The Freedom Wall, 2017
Commissioned by the Albright-Knox Art Gallery Public Art Initiative in partnership with the Niagara Frontier Transportation Authority, 2017
Background Information for Educators

Lesson Objectives

  • Build understanding of the history of the Civil Rights movement by sharing the stories of those who students can either research or speak to in person in their own neighborhoods
  • Create a diptych using portraiture to tell the stories of one notable Civil Rights figure and one activist from students' own community
  • Use a grid drawing technique to achieve accurate facial proportions and scale
  • Write a reflection that will compare and contrast the activists shown in the diptych


  • Printouts, including images of figures from The Freedom Wall
  • Sharpies
  • Paper
  • Rulers
  • Pencils
  • Exemplars/portrait examples
  • Paint—either tempera or acrylic
  • Brushes, various sizes
  • Tagboard or matboard, as a backing for diptych
  • Framing or case for diptych (optional)

Background Information for Teachers

Traditional Use of Diptych

Diptych with the Coronation of the Virgin and the Last Judgment
Diptych with the Coronation of the Virgin and the Last Judgment, ca. 1260–70. Image courtesy of The Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Contemporary Use of Diptych

Two Compositions (Formal;Informal/Male;Female)
John Baldessari (American, born 1931). Two Compositions (Formal;Informal/Male;Female), 1990. Vinyl paint on color photograph, 96 7/8 x 62 5/16 inches (246.1 x 158.3 cm). Collection Albright-Knox Art Gallery, Buffalo, New York; Evelyn R. Cary, James S. Ely and Albert H. Tracy Funds, 1991 (1991:1a-b). © John Baldessari

Vocabulary for Students

mural: a painting or other work of art executed directly on a wall

diptych: a painting, especially an altarpiece, on two hinged wooden panels that may be closed like a book

portraiture: an artistic representation of a person in which the face and its expression is predominant

Lesson Sequence


Ask your students with a show of hands if they have heard of each person on The Freedom Wall. Rank the depicted figures from those with whom the students are most familiar to the least-known figures. Ask your students to think about the stories they know about the people from The Freedom Wall. Why do we know those stories? Why do we know less about some of the figures? Why have we never heard of some of the people included on the wall?

Use this time to go over the goals of the artmaking assignment and display the teacher example.


Begin with a brief discussion on the goals and criteria for the diptych project. Go over the different drawing styles used by each of the four artists who created The Freedom Wall. Perform demonstrations of how to use line to create value, how to draw correct facial proportions, and how to use shade to create value.

Students should research the Civil Rights figures from The Freedom Wall, and other local and national activists. They may choose two figures for inspiration: one who stands out to them from The Freedom Wall and another who is lesser known. Additionally, they are to focus on the style of the artist who painted the portrait they choose from The Freedom Wall.

Studio Time

Students are to begin by using a grid to achieve correct facial proportions. Then, with the use of line and shading techniques, they are to create value using the technique of their chosen artist. Encourage them to think about whether to include objects along with the portraits to help portray their stories. Use this time to peer review and to perform in-progress critiques. As they complete their portraits, encourage the students to complete individual and group critiques.

Additional ELA Connection:

Students can write an article to inform people about their chosen current activist. Talk about how it is important to think about who writes history and whose stories are being told. This is a great opportunity to work with an ELA or Social Studies teacher for a cross-curricular opportunity.


Students should present their final works as an exhibition. If available, display the works within the school. Additionally, they should submit their written material if it was part of the assignment.

Optional Artmaking Activities

  1. Students may use the diptych idea for a compare-and-contrast extended learning opportunity.
  2. Students may want to extend their artwork into a triptych, with the third panel honoring a person the student considers a personal hero.

Optional Reflections and Lesson Wrap-Up

As an extension activity, students may research a Civil Rights leader. The following sites contain useful information for students.—Civil Rights Activists. Contains numerous biographical articles and related videos of civil rights leaders and activists.

PBS Explore—Civil Rights Icons. Includes excerpts and features from a variety of PBS documentaries. Links to additional resources are also provided.—Civil Rights Movement. This comprehensive collection includes numerous articles, videos, and speeches from the Civil Rights era. It is a useful starting point for students’ research.

Britannica—Civil Rights Movement. The online version of the renowned encyclopedia contains an in-depth article on the Civil Rights movement with numerous links to related articles. Related articles will provide users with detailed information about many Civil Rights figures.

NOVEL New York (New York Online Virtual Electronic Library). Available to New York State residents, NOVEL New York enables users to access numerous journals, articles, and full-text resources about a myriad of topics.

World Book Online. This resource contains encyclopedia articles from World Book. The articles are available at different levels of detail and contain photos, videos, and links to related resources. (District subscription required for access.)

New York State Learning Standards for the Arts

Anchor Standard 1: Generate and conceptualize artistic ideas and work. Enduring Understanding 1.1: Creativity and innovative thinking are essential life skills that can be developed. Essential Questions: What conditions, attitudes, and behaviors support creative risk taking and innovative thinking? How does collaboration expand the creative process?

HS I Proficient VA:Cr1.1.I Use multiple approaches to creative endeavors

Enduring Understanding 1.2: Artists and designers shape artistic investigations, following or breaking with traditions in pursuit of creative art making goals. Essential Questions: How does knowing the contexts, histories, and traditions of art forms help us create works of art and design? Why do artists and designers follow or break from established traditions? How do artists and designers determine what resources and criteria are needed to formulate artistic investigations?

HS I Proficient VA:Cr1.2.I Consider a range of materials and methods of contemporary artistic practices to plan works of art and design.

Anchor Standard 6: Convey meaning through the presentation of artistic work. Enduring Understanding 6.1: Objects, artifacts, and artworks collected, preserved, or presented communicate meaning and function as a record of social, cultural, and political experiences; resulting in the cultivating of appreciation and understanding. Essential Questions: What is the function of art museums, galleries, and other venues that display artwork? How does the presenting and sharing of objects, artifacts and artworks influence and shape ideas, beliefs and experiences? How do objects, artifacts and artwork collected, preserved, or presented, cultivate appreciation and understanding?

HS I Proficient VA:Pr6.1.I Analyze and describe the effect that an exhibition or collection has on the personal awareness of social, cultural, or political beliefs and understandings.

Anchor Standard 8: Interpret meaning in artistic work. Enduring Understanding 8.1: People gain insight into meanings of artwork by engaging in a process of art criticism. Essential Questions: What is the value of engaging in a process of art criticism? How can the viewer "read" a work of art as text? How does knowing and using visual art vocabularies help us understand and interpret works of art?

HS I Proficient VA:Re8.1.I Construct interpretations of artwork, supported by relevant and sufficient evidence found both in the work and in surrounding contexts.

Anchor Standard 11: Investigate ways artistic work is influenced by the societal, cultural and historical context and, in turn, how artistic ideas shape cultures past, present and future.

Enduring Understanding 11.1: People develop ideas and understandings of society, culture, and history through interactions with and study of art. Essential Questions: How does art help us understand the lives of people of different times, places, and cultures? How does art affect the views of a society? How does art honor and preserve shared traditions, beliefs, values, and other aspects of culture?

HS I Proficient VA:Cn11.1.I Analyze how knowledge of culture, traditions, and history may influence personal responses to art.

Public Art Initiative Sponsors

The Public Art Initiative was established and is supported by leadership funding from the County of Erie and the City of Buffalo.

Project Sponsors

AK Public Art mural projects are generously underwritten by the New Era Cap Foundation. Additional support for this mural has been provided by Hyatt’s Graphic Supply Company.

Program Sponsors

This program has been made possible through the generosity of KeyBank in partnership with First Niagara Foundation. Additional support has been provided by Jeff and Karin Meyer, Marion and Philip Henderson, and Maria Scrivani and John Lipsitz.

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