A Visit from Dorothy Moss
What is a portrait?
"A creation of yourself." - Grace
Dorothy, who has met Parker in real life, reiterated how Parker's reaction to the painting was "stunned and captivated"; she thought Michelle Obama looked like "a queen."
Dorothy pointed to Michelle's grey skin in the portrait, and explained how Amy Sherald was influenced by black and white photographs of her own grandmother in family photo albums. Amy often portrays African American people as "elegant and confident" in her portraiture work.
She told the story of how Michelle, Dorothy, and Amy were all gathered in a private garden in DC, where Michelle sat while Amy took photographs for the portrait. Wolf guessed the garden was at "the White House," but it turned out it was only a few blocks away from St. Johns. Dorothy told us Michelle sat for three hours, and posed in various positions. The painting took three months in total to finish. Palmer said, "That's a long time!"
Dorothy said that day there were so many mosquitos they had to wave placements to keep them away from Michelle! Dorothy asked the children, "How does Michelle look in this pose?" Wolf said, "Comfortable." When Dorothy asked, "What is she thinking about?" Nora offered, "Maybe she's thinking to be stronger."
We saw a photo of Amy Sherald's painting studio, where she has lots of tubes of paint all around. Palmer said, "Wow, that's really messy!" Gigi said, "I like to mix colors."
Dorothy also indicated the dress and its patterns. Oliver commented, "Black, pink, purple, white, black." We found out that the squares and stripes on the dress were inspired by traditional quilt-makers in Alabama.
"They have a tradition?" said Grace. Dorothy helped us define tradition as "When you do something again and again, and it becomes a part of you."
Dorothy pointed out the blue background of the portrait. Together we were wondering why Amy chose a flat blue for the background. Dorothy suggested that Amy wanted viewers to really focus on Michelle's face and dress rather than a busy background setting of the garden. Grace added, "They might've just looked at the flowers."
Dorothy let us know Parker is now seven years old, but wrote the book "Parker Looks Up" with her mother when she was very young. Gigi said, "I'm going to make a book."
Reflecting on the Conversation...
Gigi: Michelle Obama had to stay there for a long time.
Lane: Three hours.
Nora: I think I learned that Michelle Obama is big and strong.
Lane: I should have asked how tall Michelle Obama is when she's standing.
Palmer: The background looks like sky, and [Dorothy] told me it was actually the sky.
Cannon: When Michelle Obama was in the garden there were so many mosquitos. One hundred, maybe two hundred.
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Melanie: What did Dorothy tell us that we didn't know before?
Maren: That they took pictures. (referencing how Amy Sherald took photographs to reference while painting Michelle)
Grace: I didn't know you could wave with dinner table [placemats].
Fletcher: I like the whole book. The one that we looked on Zoom. I like Parker. I like it when she looks at the painting.
Oliver: Dorothy was reading the book and telling us what the pictures are about.
Andy: She read the book to us.
Melanie: What picture did you like best in the book?
Andy: Her dress.
Oliver: I liked her dress too.
Brooke: I also liked seeing Amy's paints, and thinking about how long it took her to paint it. It took her such a long time.
Grace: Yeah, three months.