See. Think. Wonder.

Every day we’re surrounded by so many things to look at and take in. Smart phones, photographs, charts, videos, and works of art all offer visual images used to inform and tell stories. Picture books, comics, and graphic novels are examples of visual storytelling.

How many images would you guess that you see in a single day?

We invite you to spend some time looking at the following work of art from the museum’s collection with the following questions in mind. You could do this with someone or on your own.

Charles Wilbert White, American (1918-1979). Goodnight Irene, 1952. Oil on canvas, 47 × 24 inches. Purchase: acquired through a lead gift provided by Sarah and Landon Rowland through The Ever Glades Fund; major support provided by Lee Lyon, in memory of Joanne Lyon; Sprint; James and Elizabeth Tinsman; Neil D. Karbank; and The Sosland Family; Generous support provided by John and Joanne Bluford; The Stanley H. Durwood Foundation; Gregory M. Glore; Maurice Watson; Anne and Cliff Gall; Dr. Sere and Mrs. MaryJane Myers and Family; Gary and Debby Ballard; Dr. Loretta M. Britton; Catherine L. Futter, in memory of Mathew and Erna Futter; Jean and Moulton Green, Jr., in honor of Rose Bryant; Dr. Willie and Ms. Sandra A. J. Lawrence; Randall and Helen Ferguson; Dr. Valerie E. Chow and Judge Jon R. Gray (Ret.); Gwendolyn J. Cooke, Ph.D.; Dwayne and Freida Crompton; Leodis and N. June Davis; Kimberly C. Young; Tom and Karenbeth Zacharias; Jim Baggett and Marguerite Ermeling; Rose Bryant; Tasha and Julián Zugazagoitia; Antonia Boström and Dean Baker; Sarah Beeks Higdon; Kathleen and Kevin Collison; Katelyn Crawford and John Kupstas; Kimberly Hinkle and Jason Menefee; Stephanie and Brett Knappe; Jan and Michael Schall; and Michele Valentine, in memory of Marcella Hillerman, 2014.28. © The Charles White Archives

Question 1: When looking at this painting, what do you SEE?

Question 2: Based on what you see, what do you THINK is going on in the painting?

Question 3: Now, after looking at and thinking about this painting, what do you WONDER?

Some information about this painting:

The man who plays the guitar and sings in this work is a legendary musician from the early 1900s. His name is Huddie “Lead Belly” Ledbetter. Lead Belly and his music are still well known today.

The artist, Charles Wilbert White, painted this portrait three years after Lead Belly passed away. White painted Lead Belly performing and aimed to positively present African American art and culture.

Now that you have looked at, thought about, wondered about and learned more about Goodnight Irene, we have another question.

Question 4: What do you think you would HEAR if you were able to step into this painting? What makes you think this?

White titled this painting the same name as Lead Belly’s popular folk song, “Goodnight Irene,” first recorded in 1933. Watch and listen to a recording of Lead Belly performing “Goodnight Irene” from 1935.

Lead Belly’s lyrics for the song:

Irene, good night, Irene, good night Good night, Irene, good night, Irene I guess you’re in my dreams

Sometimes I live in the country Sometimes I live in town Sometimes I have a great notion Jumpin’ in the river and drown

Irene, good night, Irene, good night Good night, Irene, good night, Irene I guess you’re in my dreams

Stop rambling and stop gambling Quit…

Take another look at the painting. After watching and listening to Lead Belly sing “Goodnight Irene,” how does it affect or change how you see, think, and wonder about the painting?

Some people wonder if the woman in the painting is a real person occupying the same space as Lead Belly, or is she a figment of the artist’s or Lead Belly’s imagination? What do you think?

Do you think that she is the “Irene” mentioned in his song? Why or why not?

Share your thoughts about this artwork online and include the hashtag #NelsonAtkinsatHome.

Continue to improve your visual literacy skills as you SEE, THINK, and WONDER about other works in the museum’s collection.