Sam Houston, 1851
Meade Brothers, American, active 1842–1863
Image: 8 × 5 3/16 in. (20.3 × 13.2 cm) Frame: 13 5/8 × 11 11/16 in. (34.6 × 29.7 cm)
Museum purchase funded by Vinson & Elkins L.L.P. in honor of the firm's 75th anniversary
Habits of Mind
- UNDERSTAND BIAS Understand assumption and various points of view / empathy
Learning about Sam Houston
Discussion through works of art encourage how to approach ambiguous and complex ideas, thoughts, and feelings. The MFAH offers a democratic space where students and teachers can develop, practice and articulate these habits of mind. Remember that the quality of the conversation is what is important, not finding the artist’s “answer.” Slow down and take the time to make careful observations. Talk about what you notice, and try to avoid jumping to conclusions and interpretations. Be sure to give enough time for silent looking and thinking.
• Research and write about the life of Sam Houston, the time in which he lived, and his contributions to Texas and to the United States.
What medium do you think this work is? Is it old or contemporary? Why?
Daguerreotype was one of the first types of photography. The daguerreotype had no negative; each photograph was a one-of-a-kind image. A chemical deposit was laid down on a highly polished silver-on-copper plate, then exposed to light in a camera. The full-plate daguerreotype, 8 ½ x 6 ½ inches, could be used whole or it could be subdivided. The photographs were of a relatively small format. What effect does this size have on the image?
Framed and signed whole-plate daguerreotypes such as Samuel Houston are exceedingly rare. What is the function of the gold border around the image?
What can you say about this man by just looking at the image? Consider his clothes, facial expression, posture and the background. How would this image be different if it were in color?
What was the photographer’s viewpoint? What effect does this have on the image?
The artists, two brothers, gained a reputation for their compositions and technical proficiency. This photograph demonstrates their ability to present many facets of a sitter. But the brothers also became notable for their manipulation of light and shadow. How do they use light and shadow in this work? Look at the man’s clothing, his eyes, and the color of the column.
Who do you think is the subject of the photograph? Was he an important figure? Why?
This is Sam Houston, founder of the City of Houston. What does this photograph reveal about his personality?
The vertical format of this full-plate daguerreotype and the column within the composition emphasize Houston’s height – six feet, two inches – and thus his stature as a leader. With his arms crossed, he assumes a pose of relaxed confidence. How does the monumental figure contrast with the small size of this photograph? Do you think scale matters for the depiction of an important figure? Can you think of other artworks depicting important leaders, and what scale these are on?
Sam Houston became a leader in the Texas independence movement. As commander-in-chief of the Texas troops at the Battle of San Jacinto, he defeated the Mexican forces and won independence for the new Republic of Texas on April 21, 1836. Do you think this photograph celebrates Houston’s achievements? Why?
Sam Houston had this photograph made when he was thinking about running for president. Why would a photograph be important to a presidential candidate in 1851, and today?
Connecting to the Classroom
• Study the photograph of Sam Houston and describe the man portrayed, noting his clothing, age, pose, and facial expression. Note the age of the photograph.
• What does the photograph reveal about Sam Houston’s personality?
• Houston had this photograph made when he was thinking about running for president. Why would a photograph be important to a presidential candidate in 1851, and today?
• Research the life of Sam Houston. Discuss his military and political achievements and his contributions to Texas and to U.S. history. What are his lasting contributions to life in Texas today?
• Discuss how Texas has changed since Sam Houston’s day and identify factors that account for the changes.
• As a class, write a biography of Sam Houston, and illustrate it with a scene from Houston’s life.
Resources Available to Order
The Learning Through Art program is endowed by Melvyn and Cyvia Wolff.
The Learning Through Art curriculum website is made possible in part by a grant from the Institute of Museum and Library Services.
All Learning and Interpretation programs at the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, receive endowment income from funds provided by the Louise Jarrett Moran Bequest; Caroline Wiess Law; the William Randolph Hearst Foundation; The National Endowment for the Humanities; the Fondren Foundation; BMC Software, Inc.; the Wallace Foundation; the Neal Myers and Ken Black Children’s Art Fund; the Favrot Fund; and Gifts in honor of Beth Schneider.