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Masterpiece Cards Review by Dawn Peterson

Susan Benford
The Masterpiece Cards
75 Fletcher Road
Belmont, MA 02478

This product is such a wonderful resource for homeschoolers, and I was so excited to have the opportunity to review it! Masterpiece Cards are 250 art history flashcards of the most famous paintings from the Renaissance to the 1960s. Each 4"x6" flashcard contains the image of the artwork and all the essential information on the back, including the artist, his lifespan, the title of the piece, the medium used, the year it was completed, the original size, what museum and city it is currently displayed in, and a few paragraphs that explain the painting. There's a handy, portable booklet included that lists all the paintings by museum, as well as a Footnote card. All of this is packaged in a sturdy, cardboard flip-top box that takes up minimal space and is easy to access.

This is truly a unique creation! Susan Benford, who devised and produced the cards, really did her homework in selecting which artwork to include. She consulted 22 art history books to discover which famous paintings were discussed the most, and she included analysis by one to two art historians. Each is printed on strong, nice quality cardstock, and the color and clarity of the paintings are excellent!

There are so many ways to use these great cards in your homeschool. So far, we have enjoyed simply pulling out a random card here or there to observe, read about, and discuss. It's a lot of fun for both my kids and me to learn about such beautiful works of art! The Masterpiece Cards website has several good suggestions on how to use the cards in either a classroom environment or with younger children. One idea is to have your child choose two cards randomly, and then have them tell or write out a few similarities and differences between them. Another is to use the cards to make a timeline that demonstrates the different periods or "isms" of art history. For the younger crew, the following idea looks like a lot of fun: "Set out on a treasure hunt to find the Masterpiece Cards' paintings in your museum - inadvertently your child will be looking at oodles of paintings. Take the Cards with you (they fit perfectly into a Ziplock bag). I'll never forget my five year old son breathlessly bursting into a Museum of Fine Arts room and exclaiming, 'THERE are Van Gogh's haystacks!'"

This product is really a goldmine, but no review would be complete without mentioning a possible drawback or two. Because the cards are small, the details in some paintings are not always easy to see. Obviously that cannot be helped with postcard-size reproductions, and it is worth noting that that is a main reason the cards were made--they can easily be taken to a museum as a resource in finding the real thing! Another possible drawback is that the artwork depicted on two sides of the box may be unsuitable to some. There are partially unclothed people (the source painting, by Paul Gauguin, is "Where Do We Come From? What are We? Where are We Going?" 1897-98). If this is a concern, the box may either be turned to one side and strategically placed, covered with contact paper or a dark felt pen, or just put in a different container altogether. I personally do not find it vile or offensive nudity, but I would have preferred a different painting. I just neatly blacked out a small section with a Sharpie pen. Since the colors are dark and muted, it is not very noticeable. Finally, it is noteworthy to mention that the cards are not arranged in any order. There are no tabbed dividers that alphabetize them by artist or year, or by the museum they are in. (The cards themselves are color coded on the text side by museum, but not visibly ordered for quick reference.) You can certainly do this yourself if you want, but it will take some thought and time.

In my estimation, the "negatives" are negligible, and the pros of this resource far outweigh them! I especially like how it makes art study so doable. It is literally right at your fingertips! I have often wanted to incorporate art appreciation into our school days, but like many homeschoolers, I seemed to keep pushing it to the back of the line in priority. This product makes it very simple. It takes only a few minutes out of our day to learn about a famous painting! I also appreciate that I can filter through and pull out any cards that I feel aren't age appropriate (or appropriate at all). Another plus is that the cards are a great platform for further study, especially for older kids who can locate more of a particular artist's works through the library or Internet (or perhaps a museum nearby). Finally, I am very impressed by the quality. I have considered putting something similar together in the past, but the amount of time and printer ink that would have to go into it would have made it very time consuming and expensive--and nowhere near the same quality as these cards are. When I consider all that I am getting with Masterpiece Cards, the price is extremely reasonable!

Masterpiece Cards is a fantastic resource that I think would be valuable for any homeschooling family!

Product review by Dawn Peterson, The Old Schoolhouse® Magazine, LLC, January 2010