Adult Activity Inspired by Stuart Davis's New York Waterfront, 1938

As a young man, Stuart Davis spent time studying in Paris, where he became immersed in and inspired by European modern art, especially Cubism. By 1922, however, he had already declared that his style of art would be “rigorously logical, American, not French. America has had her scientists, her inventors, now she will have her artist.” Davis’s brightly colored and energetic canvases reflect the dynamism of 20th-century American life. The waterfront—from the bustling ports of New York to small boat harbors in New England—was one of his favorite themes. While Cubist tableaux often depict figurative or still life motifs, Davis chose instead to portray a bustling urban landscape comprising pier warehouses, smokestacks, and ship fragments. Additionally, Davis was one of the first visual artists to recognize jazz as a distinct American genre; his compositions relate to its syncopated rhythms and the diverse locations where this music thrived. The predominate use of red, white, and blue also underscores this work’s undeniable patriotic theme.

In this moderate activity for adults, we'll walk you through how to make an abstracted landscape inspired by Davis's New York Waterfront, 1938.

Stuart Davis (American, 1892–1964). New York Waterfront, 1938. Oil on canvas, 22 x 30 1/4 inches (55.9 x 76.8 cm). Collection Albright-Knox Art Gallery, Buffalo, New York; Room of Contemporary Art Fund, 1943 (RCA1943:6). © Estate of Stuart Davis / Licensed by VAGA at Artists Rights Society (ARS), NY

Getting Started

  • What is the focal point of this painting?
  • What shapes and colors does the artist use to create rhythm and repetition?
  • How might an abstracted view of the real world offer a new insight to experiencing the world around us?


  • A selection of colored paper (construction paper is best, but you can also use magazines, tissue, cardstock etc.)
  • A piece of paper to use as a background
  • Scissors
  • Glue stick
  • Sharpie or black marker pen
  • An image of a cityscape, waterfront, or other type of landscape that appeals to you

Artmaking Activity

1. Select a piece of paper to use as a background. Look at your source image. What are the features that stick out to you? (It might be buildings, trees, boats, etc.) Create some simple shapes that represent these features, cut them out of the construction paper, and lay on the background. Start with larger shapes and layer smaller ones on top.

2. Vary the type of shapes you make and utilize the space at the edges and corners of your background paper. The image you are making is abstracted, so your individual features do not have to look realistic in scale or proportion.

3. Keep adding smaller pieces to break up larger solid shapes and to create detail. Think about the type of shapes you are making. Are they all geometric? Can you mix in some organic shapes?

4. Once you’re happy with the composition, stick all the shapes down with glue.

5. Add finishing touches with a black marker to accentuate any smaller details.

Optional: Share your creation on Twitter or Instagram with #AKBeyondWalls and #MuseumFromHome!