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    SUBJECTS — U.S./1861 - 1913; Visual Arts; Medicine;
    SOCIAL-EMOTIONAL LEARNING — Talent; Grieving; Mental Illness;
    MORAL-ETHICAL EMPHASIS — Trustworthiness; Responsibility.

    Age: 8-12; No MPAA Rating; 49 minutes; Color; Available from Amazon.com.

    Description:     Winslow Homer (1836 - 1910) needed peace and quiet to concentrate on his painting. In the summer of 1878, friends were planning to be away from a farm that they owned in upstate New York. They offered Homer the use of the farm so that he could have the solitude he craved. This film tells the story of two fictional children who at first interrupt that solitude, but later pose for Homer and become his friends. This made for TV film is one of the award-winning "Artists' Specials."

    Benefits of the Movie:     "Winslow Homer, An American Original" introduces children to an artist who captured the spirit of the United States as it existed in the last half of the nineteenth century. It also deals with the effects of the Civil War on soldiers who survived and on the families of the soldiers who did not.

    Possible Problems:     MINOR. There is a single word of profanity by one of the children, protested vigorously by Mr. Homer. The boy uses a sling shot to shoot Mr. Homer in the derriere once and a sheep in its udder once.

    Parenting Points:     Show your child the paintings in this Learning Guide. Ask and answer the Discussion Questions 7 - 20 that analyze three of the paintings.

    If your child is interested, go over the points in the Helpful Background section and the other Discussion Questions.


Benefits of the Movie
Possible Problems
Parenting Points
Selected Awards & Cast
Helpful Background
Discussion Questions:
      Subjects (Curriculum Topics)
      Social-Emotional Learning
      Moral-Ethical Emphasis
            (Character Counts)
Bridges to Reading
Links to the Internet
Assignments, Projects & Activities

WORKSHEETS: TWM offers the following worksheets to keep students' minds on the movie and direct them to the lessons that can be learned from the film. Teachers can modify the movie worksheets to fit the needs of each class. See also TWM's Historical Fiction in Film Cross-Curricular Homework Project.

    Selected Awards, Cast and Director:

      Selected Awards:  2001 American Library Association Notable Children's Video Award; 2000 KIDS FIRST! Coalition of Quality Children's Media - "Top 5 Rating;" 2000 KIDS FIRST! Coalition of Quality Children's Media - "All Star Rating."

      Featured Actors:  Wayne Best, Tamara Hope, and Ryan DeBoer.

      Director:  Graeme Lynch.
  QUICK DISCUSSION QUESTION:   Rate Winslow Homer in relation to the Responsibility Pillar of Character.

Suggested Response: He rates very highly because he was conscientious about his work and did the best that he could with the talent that he had. It turned out that this was a tremendous amount.

    Helpful Background:

    Snap the Whip, 1872, oil on canvas
    (Click for full sized image.)

    Winslow Homer

    Winslow Homer was an artist with a distinctive eye who was able to capture the mood of many different environments, including rural America, the seaside, the Caribbean, the Civil War, and black Americans after the Civil War.
            A Basket of Clams,1873, watercolor.
    Click here for a larger image.
    Born in Boston and raised in Cambridge, Homer began as an illustrator and then, with very few lessons, taught himself to paint. Never adhering to any pre-existing style such as Realism or Impressionism, Homer studied each scene carefully to find and express its unique beauty. His art is thoroughly American in style and character, owing little to Europe. Most of Homer's paintings tell clear stories and many capture moments that relate to important themes of life in the U.S. during the second half of the nineteenth century. His pictures are at once intensely personal but also describe nature or the human condition. Homer's sketches, oils and water colors have found enduring popularity, not only with critics and art historians, but also with the American people.

    The works reproduced in this Learning Guide show Homer's versatility as an artist in water color, pencil, and oil. The "Scene at Houghton Farm," showing two of Homer's models during the summer of 1878 obviously served as an inspiration for the makers of this film.

    When the Civil War broke out, Homer was only 23 and had yet to produce his first painting. However, he was already an accomplished commercial illustrator and Harper's Magazine, the country's most popular weekly magazine at the time, sent Homer to the front to sketch the war. His sketches were turned into lithographs that served as illustrations for the magazine. Homer's sketches of the war proved immensely popular and also served as a library of materials to work from when he left the front.
    Yankee Sharpshooter, 1862-3,
    oil on canvas.

    Homer's Yankee Sharpshooter shows how war makes man into a killing machine. In the Civil War, sharpshooters were employed to shoot soldiers from the opposing side between battles. Their purpose was to keep the opposing troops from resting and to reduce morale. Many years after the war and after he had painted this picture, Homer wrote to a friend that in 1862 he had looked through the sights of a sharpshooter's gun near Yorktown and that it struck him "as being as near murder as anything I ever could think of in connection with the army & I always had a horror of that branch of the service." Winslow Homer to George C. Briggs, Feb. 19, 1896, Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution. Quoted in Winslow Homer: The Nature of Observation, at page 35. (The Discussion Questions will help explore this painting.)

    Most of Homer's Civil War paintings focused, not on the battles, but on the war experienced by the common soldier. The title of the picture below refers to the favorite song of both armies during the war, "Home Sweet Home." The regimental band plays in the background and the soldiers in the foreground are shown in reverie, thinking no doubt of their families and friends. Many eye-witnesses told moving accounts of how, when the encampments of the opposing sides were close to each other, one side would begin the song and it would be picked up and repeated by the other side.

    Home Sweet Home, 1863, oil on canvas
    (Click here for full sized image.)

    Toward the end of his life, Winslow Homer was asked by a friend, "Do you ever take the liberty, in painting nature, of modifying the color of any part?" Homer appeared startled by the question and answered, "Never! Never! ... When I have selected the thing carefully, I paint it exactly as it appears. Of course you must not paint everything you see. ... You must wait, and wait patiently, until the exceptional, the wonderful effect, or aspect comes. Then, if you have sense enough to see it -- well, that's all there is to that." His friend then asked. "Do you never paint away from the scene?" "Never! Of course I go over them in the studio and put them in shape." Homer once waited years for a sunset that was appropriate for a picture that remained unfinished in his studio, going out almost every day to watch the setting sun to find the special effect he needed. Quotation from: Winslow Homer, A Portrait by Jean Gould, 1962, page 283.

    During the summer of 1878, Homer found that Houghton's farm was ideal for his goal of painting from nature. He noticed a young shepherdess in her early teens who was the daughter of a poor mountaineer in the neighborhood. He arranged to have the girl pose as a model as she looked after the sheep.
    Fresh Air, 1878, oil on canvas.
    The girl was immensely pleased and showed up the first time in her Sunday best. Homer sent her back home to put on her usual smock and sunbonnet. The girl was so bewildered and crestfallen that Homer promised that if she would pose a number of times in her working dress, he would later paint her in a costume. When it came time for the dress-up, Homer produced an eighteenth century shepherdess costume that included a laced bodice, straw hat with blue ribbon streamers, buckled shoes, and shepherd's crook. He had used this costume when, for a short time, he had painted decorative tiles. The result was one of his most successful pictures: a contrast of fantasy with realism and of the classical with the modern. This incident is described in Winslow Homer, A Portrait by Jean Gould, 1962, pages 170 - 172.

    A Visit from the Old Mistress, 1876, oil on canvas
    (Click here for a full image.)

    Homer went to Virginia in 1876 and painted the lives of black Americans living there. The result was a number of exceptional paintings which, again, capture poignant moments in American life. A Visit from the Old Mistress shows a white woman making a call at the home of her former slaves. Their dwelling is a shack and their clothing shabby, but they own the space. Their former mistress recognizes this. She is tentative and doesn't know how she'll be received. One of her former servants sits as she enters. The body language of the two standing black women show that they are no longer subservient and one looks downright hostile. Years of slavery didn't foster loyalty, respect, or affection for their former mistress.

    Prisoners from the Front, 1866, is Homer's most important Civil War painting. The exhibition of this work established Homer as a major American painter. The painting depicts the capture of Confederate soldiers by Brigadier General Francis Channing Barlow (1834-1896) on June 21, 1864. The background shows the battlefield at Petersburg, Virginia. The picture captures much of the relationship between Northern and Southern soldiers during the civil war. The Northern officer is resolute, in control yet somewhat baffled by the hostility of the Southern officer facing him. He seems to want to heal the rift between them. The Union soldier guarding the prisoners is fierce and ready to pounce if they make a wrong move. He is the means by which the Union officer maintains control. The foreground and intermediate background are full of tree stumps representing the devastation of war, the young men killed, the land wasted. The three prisoners are types of Southern soldiers. The young officer is defiant, yet he knows that his life and his world have changed forever. He doesn't like it. He has style and would be dashing except for the torn buttons of his uniform. (Compare this figure to the photograph of Confederate prisoners at Gettysburg, shown on the Learning Guide to Gettysburg.) The old man is resigned but wary. The youngest prisoner is befuddled and seems not to understand his situation. He may seem a country bumpkin but the four bullet holes in his hat are reminiscent of the foolhardy bravado of the rebel soldier in Inviting a Shot Before Petersburg.

    The filmmakers studied the life of Winslow Homer and incorporated many facts about his life into the film. He visited Houghton Farm and used two children as models while he was there. During his life, especially when he became older, Homer was plagued by curious people interrupting his solitude. He fitted out his porch with uncomfortable chairs so that people who came to call would not stay long! Homer kept a slingshot with his collection of hunting rifles.

    Posttraumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)

    In this film, both Fiona's father and Homer are portrayed as suffering from PTSD. Homer's case is mild, characterized by short flashbacks that he can manage. Fee's father, on the other hand, is completely debilitated by the disease. PTSD is one of the few recognized psychiatric conditions whose cause is an external situation.

    The National Center for PTSD, a program of the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs describes Posttraumatic Stress Disorder as ...
    ... [A] psychiatric disorder that can occur following the experience or witnessing of life-threatening events such as military combat, natural disasters, terrorist incidents, serious accidents, or violent personal assaults like rape. People who suffer from PTSD often relive the experience through nightmares and flashbacks, have difficulty sleeping, and feel detached or estranged, and these symptoms can be severe enough and last long enough to significantly impair the person's daily life.

    PTSD is marked by clear biological changes as well as psychological symptoms. PTSD is complicated by the fact that it frequently occurs in conjunction with related disorders such as depression, substance abuse, problems of memory and cognition, and other problems of physical and mental health. The disorder is also associated with impairment of the person's ability to function in social or family life, including occupational instability, marital problems and divorces, family discord, and difficulties in parenting. ...

    PTSD is not a new disorder. There are written accounts of similar symptoms that go back to ancient times, and there is clear documentation in the historical medical literature starting with the Civil War, when a PTSD-like disorder was known as "Da Costa's Syndrome." There are particularly good descriptions of posttraumatic stress symptoms in the medical literature on combat veterans of World War II and on Holocaust survivors. ...

    An estimated 7.8 percent of Americans will experience PTSD at some point in their lives, with women (10.4%) twice as likely as men (5%) to develop PTSD. About 3.6 percent of U.S. adults aged 18 to 54 (5.2 million people) have PTSD during the course of a given year. This represents a small portion of those who have experienced at least one traumatic event; 60.7% of men and 51.2% of women reported at least one traumatic event. The traumatic events most often associated with PTSD for men are rape, combat exposure, childhood neglect, and childhood physical abuse. The most traumatic events for women are rape, sexual molestation, physical attack, being threatened with a weapon, and childhood physical abuse.

    About 30 percent of the men and women who have spent time in war zones experience PTSD. An additional 20 to 25 percent have had partial PTSD at some point in their lives. Source: "What is Posttraumatic Stress Disorder?" National Center for PTSD, July 3, 2003;
    Two Poems Referred to in the Movie

    "The Artilleryman's Vision"
    by Walt Whitman
    While my wife at my side lies slumbering, and the wars are over long,

    And my head on the pillow rests at home, and the vacant midnight passes,

    And through the stillness, through the dark, I hear, just hear, the breath of my infant,

    There in the room as I wake from sleep this vision presses upon me;

    The engagement opens there and then in fantasy unreal,

    The skirmishers begin, they crawl cautiously ahead, I hear the irregular snap! snap!

    I hear the sounds of the different missiles, the short t-h-t! t-h-t! of the rifle-balls,

    I see the shells exploding leaving small white clouds, I hear the great shells shrieking as they pass,

    The grape like the hum and whirr of wind through the trees, (tumultuous now the contest rages,)

    All the scenes at the batteries rise in detail before me again,

    The crashing and smoking, the pride of the men in their pieces,

    The chief-gunner ranges and sights his piece and selects a fuse of the right time,

    After firing I see him lean aside and look eagerly off to note the effect;

    Elsewhere I hear the cry of a regiment charging, (the young colonel leads himself this time with brandish'd sword,)

    I see the gaps cut by the enemy's volleys, (quickly fill'd up, no delay,)

    I breathe the suffocating smoke, then the flat clouds hover low concealing all;

    Now a strange lull for a few seconds, not a shot fired on either side,

    Then resumed the chaos louder than ever, with eager calls and orders of officers,

    While from some distant part of the field the wind wafts to my ears a shout of applause, (some special success,)

    And ever the sound of the cannon far or near, (rousing even in dreams a devilish exultation and all the old mad joy in the depths of my soul,)

    And ever the hastening of infantry shifting positions, batteries, cavalry, moving hither and thither,

    (The falling, dying, I heed not, the wounded dripping and red I heed not, some to the rear are hobbling,)

    Grime, heat, rush, aide-de-camps galloping by or on a full run,

    With the patter of small arms, the warning s-s-t of the rifles, (these in my vision I hear or see,)

    And bombs bursting in air, and at night the vari-color'd rockets.

    Prisoners from the Front, 1866, oil on canvas
    (Click here for full sized image.)

    The first three verses of "The Barefoot Boy"
    by John Greenleaf Whittier
    Blessings on thee, little man,
    Barefoot boy, with cheek of tan!
    With thy turned-up pantaloons,
    And thy merry whistled tunes;
    With thy red lip, redder still
    Kissed by strawberries on the hill;
    With the sunshine on thy face,
    Through thy torn brim's jaunty grace;
    From my heart I give thee joy, -
    I was once a barefoot boy!

    Prince thou art, - the grown-up man
    Only is republican.
    Let the million-dollared ride!
    Barefoot, trudging at his side,
    Thou hast more than he can buy
    In the reach of ear and eye, -
    Outward sunshine, inward joy:
    Blessings on thee, barefoot boy!

    Oh for boyhood's painless play,
    Sleep that wakes in laughing day,
    Health that mocks the doctor's rules,
    Knowledge never learned of schools,
    Of the wild bee's morning chase,
    Of the wild-flower's time and place,
    Flight of fowl and habitude
    Of the tenants of the wood;
    How the tortoise bears his shell,
    How the woodchuck digs his cell,
    And the ground-mole sinks his well;
    How the robin feeds her young,
    How the oriole's nest is hung;
    Where the whitest lilies blow,
    Where the freshest berries grow,
    Where the ground-nut trails its vine,
    Where the wood-grape's clusters shine;
    Of the black wasp's cunning way,
    Mason of his walls of clay,
    And the architectural plans
    Of gray hornet artisans!
    For, eschewing books and tasks,
    Nature answers all he asks;
    Hand in hand with her he walks,
    Face to face with her he talks,
    Part and parcel of her joy, -
    Blessings on the barefoot boy! ....
    (Click here for the rest of the poem.)

BUILDING VOCABULARY: "Posttraumatic Stress Syndrome," "sleep like a log," malarky, "to plague someone," "unsettled disposition," "in a pig's eye" "nose up so high it got stuck in the clouds."

Are you concerned that time will be wasted if you are absent from class? Worry no more  .  .  .   Check out TeachWithMovies' Set-Up-the-Sub.

Click here for TWM's lesson plans to introduce cinematic and theatrical technique.

Reminder to Teachers: Obtain all required permissions from your school administration before showing any film.

Teachers who want parental permission to show this movie can use TWM's Movie Permission Slip.

Give us your feedback! Was the Guide helpful? If so, which sections were most helpful? Do you have any suggestions for improvement? Email us!


    Discussion Questions:

    1.  See Discussion Questions for Use With any Film that is a Work of Fiction.

    2.  What was happening in the scenes in which Homer and Fee's father replayed Civil War battles in their heads?

    3.  Name two of the main symptoms of Posttraumatic Stress Syndrome.

    4.  At one point in the movie, Gabe dismisses Fee's anger at him saying, "She's just a squatter." He was making a mistake when he did this. Tell us what Gabe was really feeling and why it was a mistake.

    5.  How did Gabe and his circumstances change during the course of the film?

    6.  Each of the children in the film abruptly changed the subject when they didn't want to answer one of Homer's questions. Can you identify these instances? What did this tell you about them?

    Questions Relating to Specific Paintings

    Yankee Sharpshooter

    7.  The soldier is the focus of the picture. How is that effect achieved?

    8.  While the picture is of a person who is not moving, it contains many dynamic features. What are they?

    9.  Why did Homer paint the hands and face of the soldier so that you can't identify him as a specific person?

    10.  Why did Homer chose the colors that he did in this picture?

    11.  After the war, Winslow Homer wrote to a friend that in 1862, near Yorktown, he had looked through the sights of a sharpshooter's gun and that it struck him "as being as near murder as anything I ever could think of in connection with the army & I always had a horror of that branch of the service." This picture conveys that feeling. How is that accomplished?

    12.  What are the major structural components of this picture?

    13.  What draws your attention to the boy at the center?

    14.  Where is the flow of energy in this picture? Tell us whether it is balanced by flows in the other direction and describe the role of sunlight in the flow of energy in the picture.

    15.  Is this picture balanced?

    16.  Some critics have said that Prisoners from the Front is a pictorial synopsis of the entire Civil War. Can you tell us why they said this? Do you agree?

    17.  Trace the flow of energy in this picture.

    18.  What are the expressions on the faces of each of the five main figures in the picture?

    19.  What is the significance of the background in this painting?

    20.  What does the treatment of light and dark tell you about this painting?

Select questions that are appropriate for your students.

For suggested answers:    click here.

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MOVIES ON RELATED TOPICS: See films on Degas, Goya, Rembrandt, Monet, and Mary Cassatt by the producers of this film at Devine Entertainment Films on TeachWithMovies.com. See also, all films listed in the Visual Arts section of the Subject Matter Index. For films about the Civil War, see the U. S. History section of the Subject Matter Index.

    Social-Emotional Learning Discussion Questions:


    1.  Why did Homer desire to work alone?

    2.  Was Homer's ability to draw and paint something that came to him naturally or did it take hard work?


    3.  What was wrong with the way in which Gabe's mother mourned for his older brother?


    4.  Some people can go through a war and suffer few adverse consequences but a significant number of people will get PTSD and need treatment. If a person gets PTSD does it mean that he or she is weak?

For suggested answers:    click here.

    Moral-Ethical Emphasis Discussion Questions (Character Counts)

    Discussion Questions Relating to Ethical Issues will facilitate the use of this film to teach ethical principles and critical viewing. Additional questions are set out below.


    (Be honest; Don't deceive, cheat or steal; Be reliable -- do what you say you'll do; Have the courage to do the right thing; Build a good reputation; Be loyal -- stand by your family, friends and country)

    1.  Each of the child characters featured in this film had trouble telling the truth about themselves or their family. Did it adversely affect them?


    (Do what you are supposed to do; Persevere: keep on trying!; Always do your best; Use self-control; Be self-disciplined; Think before you act -- consider the consequences; Be accountable for your choices)

    2.  Rate Winslow Homer in relation to the Responsibility Pillar of Character.

Teachwithmovies.com is a Character Counts "Six Pillars Partner" and uses The Six Pillars of Character to organize ethical principles.

Character Counts and the Six Pillars of Character are marks of the CHARACTER COUNTS! Coalition, a project of the Josephson Institute of Ethics.

For suggested answers:    click here.

    Bridges to Reading: Jonkonnu by Amy Littlesugar and Ian Schoenherr, is excellent for beginning readers or to be read to children six to eight. It tells a story of a fictional girl who met Homer on his trip to Virginia and his famous confrontation of the front porch of the boarding house with a White Southerner, irate that a Yankee would come to his town and paint only the blacks. The World of Winslow Homer, 1836-1910 by James Thomas Flexner, 1966, provides a sampling of Homer's different styles.

    The Civil War: Battle Fields and Campgrounds in the Art of Winslow Homer by Julian Grossman, 1991, displays the known works of Homer relating to the Civil War and comments on many of the paintings and sketches. It also provides background on the Civil War and is an excellent way to introduce art to a Civil War enthusiast.

    Let's Get Lost in a Painting, Winslow Homer -- The Gulf Stream by Ernest Goldstein, 1982 leads the reader through an excellent analysis of the painting The Gulf Stream by Winslow Homer. This book is perfect for young art students. Consisting of only 40 pages in large type and spiced with illustrations, the book makes excellent reading for a trip or just at home. The book is good to read to children, young and old.


  • Tour of Homer Collection at the National Gallery of Art
  • Artcylopedia listing of works by Winslow Homer in Museums with Links

    • Bibliography: In addition to websites which may be linked in the Guide and selected film reviews listed on the Movie Review Query Engine, the following resources were consulted in the preparation of this Learning Guide:

      • Winslow Homer, A Portrait by Jean Gould, 1962;
      • The World of Winslow Homer, 1836-1910 by James Thomas Flexner, 1966;
      • The Life and Works of Winslow Homer by William Howe Downes, 1911;
      • The Civil War: Battle Fields and Campgrounds in the Art of Winslow Homer by Julian Grossman, 1991;
      • Winslow Homer: The Nature of Observation by Elizabeth Johns, 2002; (for an excerpt from the introduction, click here)

      Last updated December 10, 2009.

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