With All Due Respect

People everywhere have used art to honor someone they admire. Compare five examples to explore a variety of ways art can express respect.

Idea One: Showing what you’re made of

A decorated shirt worn by the Plains men made of Wool, beads, animal hide, ribbon
A’aninin (Gros Ventre)
A decorated shirt, 19th century
Wool, beads, animal hide, ribbon

A teenage girl working diligently with a needle and thread created the velvety lions, fluttering curtains, and soft flower petals on this embroidered box. In the past, the craft of embroidery was taught to young girls in wealthy families. They learned to make many different stitches and use many kinds of materials. Notice the silk fabric, metallic threads, and seed pearls on this box. Look closely, and you will see that the king and queen have little wooden hands and wear crowns set with pearl beads. The more materials a girl used in her stitching, the more successful she was as an embroiderer.

The pictures on this box tell the Hebrew Bible (also called the Old Testament) story of Queen Esther, a heroic young Jewish woman who saved the lives of the Jewish people in her kingdom. Girls impressed with Esther’s loyal and honorable character chose to depict her story with their needles and thread.

Crafts that showed off a girl’s talents were displayed in the formal sitting room of her family’s home, to be admired by potential husbands and their families. By choosing Esther’s story for her needlework, the girl suggested that she herself was loyal, brave, and honorable.

Idea Two: Honoring a warrior

A'ani/Nakoda (Gros Ventre/Assiniboine), Northern Plains region (United States), Shirt, about 1890, Wool, beads, animal hide, and ribbon
A’ani/Nakoda (Gros Ventre/Assiniboine)
Northern Plains region (United States)
Shirt, about 1890
Wool, beads, animal hide, and ribbon


How many different materials do you see on this shirt? Seed beads, animal-hide fringes, and purple ribbon sewn onto red wool make a brightly colored garment with geometric designs. Like most native North American tribes, the Gros Ventre (A’ani, in their own language) used symbols to communicate what was important to them.

The man who owned this shirt had to work very hard to get it. He had to be strong in battle, very intelligent, and treat people respectfully. He could not buy a shirt like this; he had to deserve the honor of receiving it. If he did not speak and act honorably, it could be taken away.

Originally, this shirt was made of animal hide, not the red wool you see here. But it was worn so many times that the hide started falling apart. To preserve the designs, the beads and ribbons were removed and sewn onto the wool. Shirts like this are rarely found in museums, because so few have surv

Idea Three: Remembering a life cut short

Attributed to James B. Read,, American, active 1859-70, Portrait of a Boy, 1856, Oil on canvas
Attributed to James B. Read,
American, active 1859-70
Portrait of a Boy, 1856
Oil on canvas


Dressed up in clean white pants, a red coat, and black shoes, with hat in hand, this boy appears to be setting off on a journey. But look at his face. He seems very sad. And why would he be leaving when storm clouds are looming on the horizon?

Many clues suggest that this is no ordinary portrait. The boy stands on the porch, as if leaving home. A keepsake book, on the bench behind him, appears to open backwards. And a flowering vine clings to the porch pillar. Although this particular boy’s story is not known, the picture was most likely painted after he died.

In 19th-century America, making portraits of children after they passed away was fairly common. The picture helped the family honor and remember their deceased child. Like the celebration of a birthday, a yearly observance would mark the child’s death. Gathered in front of his portrait, this boy’s family could mourn him and recall all the good things about his short life. What are other ways of honoring loved ones and calling them to mind?

Idea Four: Paying tribute to the ancestors

Ancestral Portrait of a Prince
Ancestral Portrait of a Prince
late 18th century
Ink and color on silk


Ancestral Portrait of a Prince
Ancestral Portrait of Princess
late 18th century
Ink and color on silk


Would you recognize these two people as a prince and princess? What might tell you they are royalty? A Chinese person of the 18th century would have known by their royal robes, without even seeing their faces. The prince’s formal blue robe and the princess’s dragon robe were garments worn only by royalty. The jeweled hats and coral and jade necklaces also formed part of the royal costume.

But these paintings are not simply pictures of a prince and princess. They are ancestor portraits, which show family members from earlier generations. In China, ancestors were seen as continuing their existence even after death. Although no longer alive on earth, they were still respected and received lots of attention.

Families held formal ceremonies, offering ancestors their favorite food and burning incense in their honor. To link the ancestors with the living family, the oldest living relatives sat in front of the portraits, on chairs like the ones seen in these paintings. By honoring their ancestors, families ensured a successful future for upcoming generations.

Idea Five: The most generous woman

BassaIvory CoastSpoon, 20th centuryWood
Ivory Coast
Spoon, 20th century


Why might a spoon be carved in the shape of someone’s head? In the country of Ivory Coast, on the west coast of Africa, some spoons are more than just eating utensils. They play an important part in the life of Bassa people.

Bassa villagers celebrate religious and social occasions with rituals, group meals, and dancing. During these celebrations the community honors the woman who is most generous with the food her family harvests. A large wooden spoon is carved for her in the form of a woman with a stylish hairdo, lined neck, and full lips. She uses this spoon to throw rice into the crowd to welcome guests at community festivals.

Spoons like this have been used for centuries to entertain at festivals, but they also have spiritual powers. It is hoped that such a spoon will protect the village from misfortune, as well as help the woman serve the community and remain a successful farmer.

Related Activities

In Remembrance

Both _Portrait of a Boy_ and the Chinese ancestral portraits were created to honor family members who had died. Today, how do you and your family show remembrance for loved ones who have passed away? What, if any, kinds of objects do you keep to remind you of your ancestors?

Respectable Wear

The Northern Plains shirt was given to a Native American man to symbolize honor and respect. What clothing do people wear in your community to command respect? What symbols are present on the clothing as signs of honor and respect? Design a shirt that you would wear as a symbol of respect. What materials would you use to make it? What signs or symbols would be present on it? Draw a sketch of the shirt.

Respectable Skills

The young girl who created the embroidered box was greatly respected for her talent. Who do you respect for his or her talents? Write a short essay about the person you respect. What special talents and skills does that person possess?

Acts of Generosity

The Bassa spoon honors the most generous woman in the community. With your classmates, brainstorm acts of generousity that you could perform to help your community. Try to perform one act of generousity by the end of the school year. Just as the spoon was given to the woman who was most generous with her food, create a classroom object that will represent your generous act.