Picasso, My Grandmother, and Me


My grandmother, Nan, has been my hero since I was a little girl.  I spent Sunday afternoons with her, and it was delightful.  No, it was more than that.  Nan filled me with stories, taffy pulls, and dressing-up.  She drove me and my sister in to Kresge’s, the five-and-dime, to spend a whole nickle on anything we wanted.  Sundays with Nan were the best.

Nan lived in an apartment.  When you entered, the first thing hanging on the wall was a Picasso, “Girl Before a Mirror”.  I remember thinking how funny the painting looked and having many conversations with Nan. While this became familiar to me in her apartment, so did other art.  Gilbert Gaul’s “Leaving Home” was my favorite, opening my eyes to art that tells a story with the scene and characters.  This painting was was about history and the Civil War.  I’ve been a history buff ever since.

I recently came face-to-face with a Picasso at the Currier Museum of Art in Manchester, NH.  Nan came flooding over me.


“Woman Seated in a Chair”, 1941

The Currier interpreted the painting:

Picasso executed this painting during World War II while living in a small apartment in German-occupied Paris.  While the distortion of form and space through simplified shapes reflect Picasso’s earlier Cubist period, the bright color and emotional charge is the continuing influence of Expressionist art.

Emotionally charged, indeed.  This was real.  I crept close and looked at brush strokes.  The white circles on the woman’s dress are thick, raised paint.  I thought about Picasso painting this, perhaps looking out his window at the Germans in the streets of Paris and feeling angry.

And, I thought about Nan.  She was only five years older than Picasso.  How did she come to like Picasso art?  After all, his painting greeted everyone who entered her home.  But, Nan’s life was far from modern.  She grew up in rural West Virginia, in the oldest two-story log house west of the Appalachian mountains.  She was more akin to Laura Ingalls Wilder than to Pablo Picasso.  She had a hard life, outliving her brothers and sisters, two husbands, and her children.  By the time I came along, all she had were her grandchildren.  Yet, she was ever happy and strong.

I teach art to my preschool class in a way that admires and respects the art of well-known artists.  Learning from greatness is a good beginning.  Young children are enthusiastic sponges when it comes to art, and I introduce many styles of painting.  Real is best, therefore children paint with authentic watercolor paints squeezed from tubes onto a palette.  Each April we host an Art Show for the community.  Children paint in the style of Picasso, Kandinsky, Monet, van Gogh, Matisse, Carle, and others.


I often think of the power of art and how that transcends to others.  Art had an influence on Nan, Nan had an influence on me, and now I have an influence on children.  Thank you, Picasso.


About Jennie

I have been teaching preschool for over thirty years. This is my passion. I believe that children have a voice, and that is the catalyst to enhance or even change the learning experience. Emergent curriculum opens young minds. It's the little things that happen in the classroom that are most important and exciting. That's what I write about. I am highlighted in the the new edition of Jim Trelease's bestselling book, "The Read-Aloud Handbook" because of my reading to children. My class has designed quilts that hang as permanent displays at both the National Liberty Museum in Philadelphia, and the Fisher House at the Boston VA Hospital.
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62 Responses to Picasso, My Grandmother, and Me

  1. What a wonderful idea. Introducing famous art work to your class. You are a great inspiration and just think what a big smile is on your nan’s face.
    There are tears in my eyes and joy in my heart for you and your nan.

  2. quillella says:

    Wow, I wish I had a teacher like you for kindergarten – maybe then I would actually enjoy art! I love that you introduce young children to the works of so many wonderful artists…Picasso is one of my favourites!

  3. sportsattitudes says:

    An uncle of mine who lived upstate from me when I was a child (didn’t see him but more than a couple times a year) made the most beautiful oil paintings that continue to live on within our family since he passed and have inspired everyone who knew him. Looking back after reading this I wonder where he got his inspiration to paint. I’ll never know for sure but I’m certain introducing artistic expression in the classroom is a great thing.

    • Jennie says:

      I think you are absolutely right. And, what a wonderful family story. I’m sure you wish you had 10 minutes to ask him about his inspiration. He may have had a “Nan Story” to tell. I will be writing more about art and children down the road. Enjoy the playoffs today!

  4. A lovely post about your Nan, Jennie. Like I said, I want to be four again and be in your classroom. Since that isn’t going to happen, I thank you for all the great ideas for play with my grandson. (I hope to be his Nan) ❤

  5. It is wonderful to pass on the gift of art to young minds.. Teaching them how expression comes in many forms.. We may not always see the thoughts behind the artist.. But we have fun interpreting our own thoughts about the pieces we are viewing..

    Your Nan sounded to be a wonderful soul Jennie.. She left a lasting impression.. And I know You too are leaving a lasting impression within the minds and hearts of your young students..

    A great Blessing you are ..

    Sue xx

  6. Wow, your poor nan to have even outlived her children! The photo you shared of her is lovely. Your students are very lucky to have you.

  7. Hayley says:

    This is beautiful Jennie – keep on inspiring xx

  8. Norah says:

    It is wonderful to introduce children to the works of great artists. Actually children are fortunate, they get to see lovely artworks every time they read, or a read, a beautiful picture book. But the masters – that’s something special. I have a lovely collection of picture books about the greats, and the children find them inspiring. Lovely post, as always.

  9. Dan Antion says:

    What a nice tribute (this post) and what a nice way to honor her spirit, by spreading an understanding of art. No doubt, some of your students will be moved by this experience. You may never know, but it’s a good thing that you’re doing.

  10. srbottch says:

    Jennie, a wonderful story. Kids can be very expressive when taught and left to their own imaginations.

  11. “Emotionally charged, indeed. This was real. I crept close and looked at brush strokes. The white circles on the woman’s dress are thick, raised paint. I thought about Picasso painting this, perhaps looking out his window at the Germans in the streets of Paris and feeling angry.”

    I had the very same intense experience when I viewed Van Gogh’s exhibit in LA during its tour of the country.(late 90’s?)..I knelt down as close to the picture as I was allowed and looked from the bottom up…oh wow!

    • Jennie says:

      Wow, Laura. Van Gogh. It is such a humbling and thrilling experience. I took two pictures of a painting, one of the full view, and one close-up showing the brush strokes…ahhh, so wonderful. I’ll be using those on an art blog post down the road. Now, if I can get more children and families into art museums, that will be a good thing. Glass half-full, here.

  12. reocochran says:

    It was wonderful have weekly visits with your Nan. The Picasso was a special surprise considering her background, Jennie. This was extraordinary to feel overcome with memories and nostalgia for your Nan in the museum at the sight of this Picasso. I have always felt art makes children come alive with words and descriptions. Music can do this as in “Peter and the Wolf.” My sixth graders would write short poems or stories while looking at large paintings you could borrow from BGSU library. Our local library has paintings to borrow, too.
    You are an inspiration to parents who have not run into teachers who support the arts in their lessons and classrooms. 🙂

    • Jennie says:

      Thank you, Robin. Yes, coming face-to-face with a real Picasso, much like the one that Nan had, immediately pulled me back to my childhood. Peter and the Wolf! Thank you!!! I have not played that recording in quite a few years. I’ll be gearing up classical music the beginning of March, and I will definitely include Peter and the Wolf. Yes, art and music are linked. In March we learn about Italy, including music and art to prepare for our Art Show. Very exciting!

  13. Barbara says:

    Another wonderful post. Thank you, the photo of your Nan is lovely.

  14. What a beautiful woman your Nan was, inside and out. Thanks for sharing her with us. I’m looking forward to your future art posts as well as classical music in March!

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  16. I love honk this is wonderful and a beautiful tribute to your Nan.

  17. Yay, Jennie! And thank you to YOU, my friend, who helps these children with your wisdom and your caring. I saw many blessings of Picasso when I visited Barcelona, or at least I’m pretty sure that’s the painter who lived there (embarrassing that I don’t quite remember). Such a beautiful thing to share about your love of art and your Nan. Love Jennie … Debbie 🙂

  18. You are feeding the souls of the children you teach in a way they can’t even yet imagine. With your music and art education, they have something that will carry them through the worst of their times. Your Nan was a remarkably beautiful woman and wise as well. Your students will be telling their children tales of the teacher who brought so much light into their lives. Let’s just hope someone else doesn’t tell them they have to color inside the lines. 😦

  19. Children are enthusiastic responders to art, both theirs and others. I’m more a fan of Picasso’s blue period than his cubist work, but like you, I believe it’s important to expose children to great art and music early in life. Thanks so much for sharing this with your students.

    Any my grandmother had a profound affect on my life, too. 🙂

    • Jennie says:

      Thank you, Cathleen. I couldn’t agree more. When we begin art in earnest for our big Art Show for the community, I introduce classical music with my old record player. Yes, they go hand-in-hand. My grandmother also introduced me to Norman Rockwell. Lucky US!

  20. Ugh. And my grandmother… Could you please fix that for me? (Sorry.)

  21. John Kraft says:

    Wonderful. I grew up in a house filled with Art. My mother was an artist and the smell of linseed oil and paint was ever present.

    I became an early fan of Van Gogh, Modigliani, and Lautrec.

    And things have never been the same.

  22. Oh this is SOOO why visiting Art in Museums is so important….reproductions just cannot do original work justice!

  23. Reblogged this on The Life & Times of Zoe the Fabulous Feline and commented:
    A thoughtful and inspirational post from one of the chosen few…those with that special gift of teaching children. Thanks, Jennie, for a lovely post, for sharing your Nan (who seems to have been an amazing woman!), and for sharing your knowledge with all your children!

  24. Darlene says:

    You are the kind of teacher the world needs. Some of us were lucky to have been influenced by clever grandparents. My grandmother, a simple farm girl, would quote Shakespeare. I learned a lot from her as well. Keep up the good work your grandmother started.

  25. noelleg44 says:

    What a wonderful story! Loved it. And yes, children’s art has all the components of the modernists – we have one painting my daughter did in grade school that we were offered money for. Never!

    • Jennie says:

      Thank you, Noelle! Children’s art can be incredibly sophisticated because they are open to learning and not inhibited with self doubt. I love hearing about your daughter’s painting.

  26. Reblogged this on Totally Inspired Mind and commented:
    My good friend Jennow who does a wonderful, inspiring, heartwarming and often educational blog call A Teachers Reflections wrote this great article about her Nan. Her Nan brought art into her life the same way my Nanny brought music into mine! Thank you to all the great grandparents who left their legacies in our lives.

    Paulette Le Pore Motzko

  27. cayenne154 says:

    Picasso is a great artist. His paintings are strange and confusing sometimes, but it is great how an artist has his own style.

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