every month, i introduce my students to a famous artist. i write a kid-friendly biography for each of these Masters of the Month; i display lots and lots of their artwork; and, just for fun, i draw their portraits too. here are a few of those portraits plus some favorite tidbits from their lives:

Marc Chagall

Marc Chagall was the eldest of nine children. He began to display his artistic talent while he was still a young student. His paintings were about his childhood, a subject that interested him for the rest of his life. When he moved to Paris, Chagall used strong and bright colors to portray his home village in a fantastic, dreamlike state.

The outbreak of World War I stranded Chagall in Russia. He made a home of it. He founded an art school there and, after just a few years, he was appointed Commissar for Art!

After the war, Chagall took his wife, Bella, and daughter, Ida, on a trip to Israel. While there, Chagall was inspired to illustrate the Bible. He travelled, painted, and drew in Tel Aviv, Jerusalem and Safed. The country left a vivid impression on him. When he returned to Paris, the light and landscape of Israel continued in his work.

Chagall fled to Ameirca during World War II. He used his art to express his horror over the Nazi rise to power. He eventually settled in France but Chagall continued to travel, paint, and share his art around the world. He died in 1985 in Saint-Paul-de-Vence, France.

Maira Kalman

Maira Kalman was born in Tel Aviv, Israel in 1949. Her family moved to New York City where she attended the High School of Music and Art, made famous by the movie, Fame. She wanted to write short stories.

Mrs. Kalman and her husband, Tibor, founded the graphic design company, M&Co. Tibor was the star and Maira was the "in house muse." They designed album covers, magazines, film titles, clocks, umbrellas, and more. Some of their creations can even be seen at the Museum of Modern Art. They accomplished all this while raising their two children, Lulu Bodoni and Alexander.

In 1987, Maira Kalman illustrated a children's book by Talking Heads singer, David Byrne. Stay Up Late launched Kalman's career as a book artist. Her own books celebrate New York City and tell a little bit of her own life story. The books eventually started a new genre of children's book: The expressive picture book.

Maira Kalman lives and works today in New York City. You can find her artwork online at MairaKalman.com.

Camille Pissarro

Camille Pissarro was born on a Caribbean island. His parents sent him to Paris to study art. The school director told Camille to take advantage of his life in the tropics "by drawing coconut trees." The young Pissarro took his teacher's advice. When his father sent him to work at the port, he took his sketchbook with him. Pissarro signed those early school drawings with a Spanish name, Pizzarro.

Art critics back then didn't like Pissarro's work. He lost confidence until he made friends with Monet and Cezanne, young artists who shared his artistic interests. The trio organized their own art shows. Critics called their paintingst "impressionist" as an insult.

Through years of poverty and despair the Impressionists worked to gain a place in the world. Pissarro remained true to his vision and he became a teacher to the entire group of painters - Renoir, Monet, Degas, and Cezanne. They respected his art and turned to him for inspiration. Thanks to his generous spirit, the Impressionists eventually become some of the most beloved, admired, and famous artists in history.

Pissarro never lost his enthusiasm for art, his love of nature, and his appreciation for the life all around him. Considered a master artist, Camille Pissarro died in 1903.

Roy Lichtenstein

The young Roy Lichtenstein really liked music. He drew pictures of jazz musicians and their instruments. The hobby lead him to art school.

Lichtenstein's early paintings were a combination of Abstraction, Cubism, and Expressionism. His first experiment with Pop Art was a drawing of a ten dollar bill. He sold his work frequently but he was a relatively unknown artist. That changed when Lichtenstien created Look Mickey. The painting was inspired by one of his sons. The boy pointed to a Mickey Mouse comic book and said "I bet you can't paint as good as that, eh, Dad?" In the same year, Lichtenstein painted six other pieces with recognizable characters from gum wrappers and cartoons. The entire series was purchased by important art collectors. Lichtenstein was suddenly famous around the world.

Even though he created his work by hand the way the old master artists did, Lichtenstein wanted his paintings to look like a machine made them. He worked with stencils to produce the oversized dots that make his artwork look like a printed picture.

The Pop Artist's most famous paintings are close, but not exact, replicas of other peoples' drawings. Critics said that he was just copying other artists' work. Lichtenstein never took himself too seriously though. "I think my work is different from comic strips..." He said, "But it would be difficult to prove it rationally."

Lichtenstein died in New York in 1997 at the age of 73.

Frida Kahlo

Frida Kahlo grew up with four sisters in her parents' house, La Casa Azul (the Blue House). Frida was especially close with her father, Guillermo Kahlo, a German Jew who immigrated to Mexico.

The Mexican Revolution began when Frida was only three years old. Little Frida was so proud of the revolutionaries that she told grown-ups that she was born on the first day of the revolution. She continued the fib as an adult. She wanted the world to think of her when they thought of the Mexican Revolution.

As a teenager, Kahlo was injured while riding in a bus that collided with a trolley car. The accident broke her spine, her collar bone, her pelvis, her leg, and her foot. Frida was stuck in a full body cast for three months. So, she made art to pass the time. "I paint myself," Frida said, "Because I am often alone and I am the subject I know best." Her mother had a special easel made for her so she could paint in bed, and her father gave her his paint brushes and a box of paints.

Frida and her husband, Diego Rivera, shared a love for art and politics. They were nicknamed "The Elephant and the Dove" because he was so large and she was so petite. Their home is famous in Mexico because it was actually two houses connected by a bridge.

A few days before Frida Kahlo died in 1954, she wrote in her diary: "I hope the exit is joyful - and I hope never to return - Frida."

© 2008 rama hughes