Past Spotlight Selections

The Spotlight Program began in 2011 as a way for students to learn about the McNay's collection one work at a time.

Spotlight 2016–17: Alexander Calder, Four Winds

Born in Lawnton, Pennsylvania in 1898, Alexander Calder was born into a family of artists. Called Sandy by his family and friends, he created his first sculpture when he was four years old and loved to invent, even his own toys. Calder carried that child-like sense of wonder and play through his entire career. His family tried to persuade him to not pursue art as a career and he even studied mechanical engineering in college. But he desire to create was too strong. Utilizing his engineering knowledge, Calder became the first artist to make art that moved, powered by air currents, cranks, or motors. He invented the mobile and his sculptures would grow to heights of 75 feet tall, works of art, but also feats of engineering. This year, students take on the mindset of Alexander Calder and are challenged to make art that moves literally and figuratively.

Teacher Resources

Alexander Calder, Four Winds, 1963. Painted steel and aluminum. Collection of the McNay Art Museum, Bequest of Robert H. Halff. ©2016 Calder Foundation, New York/Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York.

Spotlight 2015–16: Marsden Hartley, Portrait Arrangement

Born in Maine, Marsden Hartley (American, 1877-1943) studied art in Cleveland and New York City before traveling to Europe in 1912. While there, Hartley experimented with Cubism and was in contact with the German Expressionist painters known as The Blue Rider. At the outbreak of World War I, Hartley, fascinated by the pageantry of the German army, began to include military imagery in his paintings. Portrait Arrangement combines a portrait, rural landscape elements, and abstracted forms or symbols such as stars and birds. Hartley's military-themed paintings became increasingly abstract and lost their initial optimism as the war took more and more young lives.

Marsden Hartley, Portrait Arrangement, 1914. Oil on canvas. Collection of the McNay Art Museum, Museum Purchase.

Spotlight 2014–15: Camille Pissarro, Haymakers Resting


Camille Pissarro, Haymakers Resting

This 1891 painting was a part of Marion Koogler McNay's original bequest to the museum at the time of its founding 60 years ago and represents Pissarro's experimentation with the pointillist style of painting. Pissarro met young artists Georges Seurat and Paul Signac in 1885 and exhibited with them in the eighth, and last, Impressionist Exhibition in 1886. Seurat and Signac had adopted a scientific approach to painting labeled pointillism in reference to the application of small dots, or points, of paint to the canvas. Though Pissarro eventually abandoned this tedious way of painting, the works from this period illustrate the evolution of the Impressionist style and an increasingly interest in color.

Camille Pissarro, Haymakers Resting, 1891. Oil on canvas. Collection of the McNay Art Museum, Bequest of Marion Koogler McNay.

Spotlight 2013–14: Leonardo Drew, Untitled (Number 33A)

Leonardo Drew

Although teachers recognized his skill as a draftsman at a young age, Leonardo Drew (born 1961) abandoned two-dimensional work to make large-scale sculpture, using found and slightly altered objects. Drew often stacks collected materials in grids. Never titling his work, but only assigning each sculpture a number, he depends on the viewer to bring his or her own interpretation to the installation.

Untitled, Number 33A

While living in San Antonio, Leonardo Drew collected objects that he found scattered along the railroad tracks. He installed his finds - scraps of wood, tin cans, and old shoes - in used, industrial bread pans from the closed ButterKrust Bakery, whose repeated rectangular shapes form a grid-like structure on the wall. Look closely and speculate about the previous lives of these humble materials and the stories that they hold.

Leonardo Drew, Untitled (Number 33A), 1999. Found objects with wire and tape. Museum purchase with the Helen and Everett H. Jones Purchase Fund

Spotlight 2012–13: Ben Shahn, Sing Sorrow

Ben Shahn

A leading American painter in the Social Realist movement, Ben Shahn addressed the extraordinary events in lives of ordinary people during the Depression Era (1930-1940). Shahn was a photographer, draftsman, illustrator, designer, writer, and teacher. A special quality of his work was his refusal to preach; he told a story, drew the picture, but left the conclusions to others.

Sing Sorrow

Notice the turbulent sky, telephone wires, railroad signal, and a man in anguish holding a guitar. In 1946, Shahn and his family drove to Trenton, New Jersey, to see Franklin Delano Roosevelt's funeral train pass through town. Shahn was inspired to paint Sing Sorrow when he saw someone with a banjo weeping as the train slowly passed by.

Ben Shahn, Sing Sorrow, 1946. Tempera on panel. Collection of the McNay Art Museum, Mary and Sylvan Lang Collection. Art © Estate of Ben Shahn/Licensed by VAGA, New York, NY.

Spotlight 2011–12: Roger Shimomura, Him-a-Hero

Roger Shimomura

Roger Shimomura's art addresses issues of ethnicity, identity, and politics. He draws upon the diaries kept by his late immigrant grandmother. Born in Seattle, in 1939, the artist spent two years in Minidoka, Idaho, one of 10 concentration camps for Japanese Americans during WWII. Inspired by the style of post-war artists Jasper Johns and Roy Lichtenstein, Shimomura combines elements of traditional Japanese Ukiyo-e printmaking with American cartoons and Japanese anime.

Discussion Questions for Students about Him-a-Hero

  • Who is Him-a-Hero
  • How does this self-portrait compare to others that you have seen? 
  • Who is the hero in this painting? 
  • If you were in this work of art, what heroic qualities would you have? 
  • What defines hero? What defines villain? Who are the heroes and villains in this painting? 
  • In 17th-century Japanese Ukiyo-e prints, artists used floating images and diagonal compositions. American Pop art often has flat colors and bold lines. Find examples of both Ukiyo-e and Pop in Him-a-Hero
  • How does Him-a-Hero reflect Shimomura's identity?

Roger Shimomura, Him-a-Hero, 2004. Acrylic on canvas. Collection of the McNay Art Museum, Museum purchase with funds from the McNay Contemporary Collectors Forum