Cora’s, 2016
Acrylic on canvas
71 3/4 × 59 3/4 × 2 1/4 in. (182.2 × 151.8 × 5.7 cm)
Museum purchase funded by Barbara Hines, Barbara and Michael Gamson, Gary Mercer, Cecily E. Horton, and the Director's Accessions Endowment

Habits of Mind

  • OVERCOME FEAR Overcome fear of ambiguity / fear of failure or being wrong / fear of the unknown


  • 12
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  • 10
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  • Language Arts

Cora's (ELA)

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.


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Check our online collection module for further information.


Asking questions is important because it teaches students to dig deeper and not necessarily accept one person’s answer/perspective. Having the students discover meaning in this work through questioning/a Socratic environment, they’re also forced to observe deeply and see a bigger picture. This is a real-world skill and habit that is cross-curricular and can be used in problem solving.

Subject Matter

  • Observe work of art. Individually, students create open-ended questions about the setting and character in Cora’s, i.e. “what details in the setting and the character contribute to the meaning of the work of art as a whole?”
  • Divide students into small groups for Socratic Seminars. Students respond to questions with a variety of thoughtful explanations, giving evidence from the work of art in support of claims and interpretations. Take notes during discussion.
  • Write an essay exploring the rich details of the character and setting.


  • What colors and shapes do you observe in the painting? What patterns do you notice? How do these visual elements work together in the composition?
  • What details do you notice in the woman’s clothing and the decoration of the room? As you look closely at the painting, what details do you notice that may not have caught your initial attention?

  • As you look at the painting, think about the artist’s statement, “I paint those subjects I have love and sympathy for.” Do you think this statement applies to Cora’s? Why or why not? How might an artist convey love through a painting?
  • How does Henry Taylor represent home in this painting? How does he represent his childhood in stories shared during interviews? What connections might you be able to make between the artist’s stories of his childhood and the image? Or might the artist’s stories and the painting reveal diverse or conflicting perspectives?

This work of art is seemingly simplistic at first – it’s a painting of a woman sitting in a living room. However, if the students start with that and then build up an interpretation using their ideas and ideas of others, synthesized, students can learn from each other – hence the metacognition comes into the play as they confront their understanding and realize where it may be incomplete.

Work of Art

“I paint those subjects I have love and sympathy for”[1] remarked the artist Henry Taylor in describing the care he brings to his paintings. This intimate scene depicts a woman seated in an interior room. The bold contrasting colors of the red chair and the green wall frame the portrait. The painting has a loose gestural style in which you can see the artist’s brush strokes and even drips of painting, revealing the way he confidently applied the layers of acrylic paints on the canvas to create these vibrant color-blocks. Taylor also carefully depicts the woman’s demeanor showing her arms crossed, gazing directly out at the viewer in a confident yet casual manner. Her peach skirt and white sleeveless blouse compliment the colorful interior echoing the peach floor coverings and the bright white lamp shade. The bright green outline framing the woman’s face suggests a halo. The elongated form of the lamp shade perched upon the side table elegantly mirrors the woman’s beehive hairstyle.


This detailed and vivid painting is based on a photograph depicting a family friend seated in the artist’s mother’s home, which he commemorates in the title Cora’s. Furthermore, Taylor noted the significance of the location with an inscription on the back of the painting accompanying his signature. The inscription reads “Dear Momma / I visited your house today / @416 W Hill St. / 95030.” Below the inscription and signature, the artist also included a loose sketch of two trees and a house.[2]


Although the painting Cora’s is based on a photograph, Taylor has commented in an interview that “I didn’t have a camera growing up; there are very few pictures of me growing up, because my mom was always working. Maybe on some holiday there were some photos or Polaroids. So I have to rely on memory.” Perhaps photographic memory, family memory, and artistic memory converge here in Henry Taylor’s Cora’s.


In interviews with the artist, Taylor describes his family and his childhood growing up in Oxnard, California. He was the youngest of eight children, playfully noting in an interview, “I’m Henry the Eighth.”[3] His father grew up in east Texas. The artists describes the stories he learned growing up and how it impacted his sensitivity and awareness of the world from an early age:


I think sometimes we are, as people of color, a little more empathetic to the things around us. I think from an early age that I was just aware of certain things…What my dad went through, he passed down the story. I’ve got children, I’ve got grown children; I don’t have to worry about my kids getting lynched, but all of a sudden there’s a shooting. My grandfather was shot and killed when my dad was nine years old. I heard the story.”


The Taylor family stories not only shaped the artist’s perspective but are part of memories that he has shared with his own children and that he remembers when confronted with present day acts of violence and injustice. In addition to hearing, remembering, and sharing family stories, Henry remembers being attentive to the people and places he encountered as a child: “when I was a little kid, I used to look through my window and watch everybody walking to church, and see what they were wearing…it was like my own little catwalk.” Henry would also accompany his parents to their work, which seems to have shaped his childhood memories. The artist’s father was an industrial painter. Henry recalls waking up early to ride with him to work. Henry’s mother, Cora, worked as a housekeeper, and Henry’s first encounters with art were in the homes where his mother worked.


Henry first started painting in junior high school. In 1984, he began taking painting classes on and off at Oxnard University for six years with James Jarvaise, an artist who is not particularly well known today but whose work was featured in a major exhibition at MOMA alongside iconic modern twentieth-century artists such as Robert Rauschenberg, Louise Nevelson, and Jasper Johns. Jarvaise encouraged Taylor to enroll in the B.F.A. program at the California Institute of the Arts, which he completed in 1995. While in school, Taylor worked at the Camarillo State Mental Hospital. In describing the impact of this experience on his work, the artist explained, “I learned not to dismiss anybody. It just made me a little more patient, a little more empathetic. It taught me to embrace a lot of things.”[4]


In Cora’s, Henry Taylor’s careful and attentive representation of a family friend seated in his mother’s house reflects the artist’s sensitivity to the layered stories of the people and places that shaped his memory and his work as a painter. In an interview, Henry Taylor described the goal of his work as an artist as it appeared to him in a dream:


I had a cousin I called Aunt Peggy, and she came to me in a dream. ‘Henry, just tell the truth!’ That’s all she said! And I’ll never forget it. I’m still digging. I just want to be honest and make something beautiful that I can go back and look at and say: ‘I’m proud of that.’[5]


Looking carefully at Henry Taylor’s Cora’s and thinking about the artist’s dream to “just tell the truth,” the artist’s painting of his mother’s home and a family friend seated comfortably in the room depicts the powerful sense of beauty and belonging experienced in Cora’s home.


[1] “Henry Taylor at MoMA PS,” Contemporary Art Daily, April 18, 2012.

[2] Henry Taylor, Cora’s, The MFAH Collections online database:

[3] Duro Olowu, “Henry Taylor’s Truth,” Interview Magazine, March 28, 2017. The following quotes draw from this interview as well.

[4]  Karen Rosenberg, “Henry Taylor on His Profoundly Empathetic Early Portraits of Psychiatric Patients,”, April 2, 2016.

[5] Antwaun Sargent, “Examining Henry Taylor’s Groundbreaking Paintings of the Black Experience,”, July 16, 2018.


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