John White Watercolor Paintings

John White's watercolor paintings brought Roanoke Island and its surrounding area to life. Compare watercolors and wood engravings made by the artist of the Lost Colony.

John White painting vs woodcarving of Secotan
Original 20 x 32 cm

Activities below are from the Jamestown-Roanoke-Sea Venture Unit Study.

John White's Painting of Secotan

High gloss magazines and books were not available to the 16th century publishers; their readers had to do make do with woodcarvings printed onto the page. The two paintings side by side above allow us to contrast his original watercolor with the woodcarving that was circulated.

This is one of John White's most popular watercolors. It shows a variety of activities of the Secotan Tribe, south of Roanoke Island on the mainland.

Activity A: Contrast Watercolor and Carving

Look at the two pictures side by side. What are some of the most obvious differences you see right away. (Color, ease of sight, amount of detail.)

Top to bottom look at the pictures and see how many differences can be seen.

Activity B: Details Please!

In this activity students get 60 seconds to study the picture. (You can make it longer depending on the attention-span.)

Let them know they will be asked questions about details in the picture.

Afterwards they are asked:
  1. How many houses are in the engraving
  2. Where is the village? In the woods, on a mountain, or in a desert
  3. How many fires are in the village
  4. Are there more crops in the painting or the engraving?
This is a fun, ungraded activity. Depending on the ability and level of challenge, you may let them look for the answer if they can't answer from memory.
This activity sets the stage for the next.

Activity C: Search and Find

Painting of Secotan Village Activities

Students match the letters in the picture to these activities:
  • Ceremonial dance
  • Central village road
  • Late corn (just starting to grow)
  • Middle Corn (half grown)
  • Early corn (ready to be harvested)
  • Bird watcher’s raised hut
  • Community fire for cooking outside of wood and grass huts
  • Meals served on mats on the ground
  • Sleeping benches along the inside walls of longhouses

Painting of Algonquian Male

John White Painting of Manteo
Original 15 x 26 cm

John White's watercolor paintings of natives gave more detail and facts preserving their culture like no other artist has.

This picture of an Algonquian male is believed to be Manteo, who went with White and others to England and was made Lord of Roanoke when he returned.

Activity: Details Please!

Again, look at the painting for 60 seconds and answer these questions.
  • What is painted on him? (Different tatoos which identify their village)
  • What other decorations does he have. (Feathers, shells, beads.)
  • What clothes does he wear? (A leather apron around his waist.)
  • How big is his bow? (As tall as he is: a long bow.)
  • What else does he carry? (A rolled up sleeping mat.)

Algonquian Fishermen

John White Painting of Algonquian Fishermen
Original is 35 x 25 cm

All of the natives are fishing, but there are four different jobs the fishermen are doing. What are they?
  • Standing and pushing the canoe through shallow water
  • Maintaining a fire in the canoe (fish swim to the boat)
  • Spearing fish
  • Collecting the fish from the weirs (no person doing it but the weirs are present

Village of Pomeioc

John White Painting of Pomeioc Village
Original is 25 x 37 cm

Compare and Contrast

How is this village different from Secotan?

How is it the same?

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