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The Argyll Collection

The focus of this resource is Sam Ntiro's painting Cutting Wood in The Argyll Collection. The Argyll Collection was originally formed to create a collection of artworks so that children living in rural communities in Argyll would have the opportunity to see contemporary art and also to find out about and make connections with other cultures.

Find out more about modern African art in The Argyll Collection

Samuel Ntiro (1923–1993)

Sam Ntiro was a Tanzanian artist. He studied Fine Art at Makerere College in Uganda and then at Slade School of Art in London. After graduating he lived in Dar es Salaam, where he became a successful artist and a champion of Tanzanian art. Among his many achievements, he was also the Tanzanian Ambassador to Great Britain from 1961 to 1964.

Read more about Sam Ntiro

Activity: where was Sam Ntiro from?

Sam Ntiro was from Tanzania, a big country on the east coast of Africa.

  • Show your students a map of Africa.
  • Ask them where they think Tanzania is on the map.

Discuss with your students:

  • how far do you think Tanzania is from Scotland / the UK?
  • is it bigger or smaller than the UK?
  • what do you think the country might look like? Are there mountains? Are there deserts? Are there cities? Is there a seaside?

Map of Africa showing Tanzania

Map of Africa showing Tanzania

Mapping Tanzania: learning through maps

  • Use this digital map tool to calculate how far Tanzania is from the UK
  • Look at a more detailed map of Tanzania with your students and ask them to locate Mount Kilimanjaro, where Sam Ntiro grew up, and Dar e Salam where he lived after graduating from art school.
  • Now, look at a map that shows the terrain of the country or a satellite view. Explain to your students how different landscape features such as mountains, lakes, rivers and cities appear on the map.

Tanzania facts

Tanzania is nearly 5,000 miles away from the UK and is over three times bigger than the UK. (The United Kingdom is approximately 243,610 sq km, while Tanzania is approximately 947,300 sq km. The population of Tanzania is smaller than that of the United Kingdom however there were just under 10 million fewer people living in Tanzania in 2020.)

Like Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland and England, Tanzania has mountains, lakes, flat areas of countryside where people graze animals and grow food, and seaside. It also has big cities.

Explore photographs of Tanzania with Britannica Kids

What things did Sam Ntiro paint?

Even though Sam Ntiro moved to a big city, he liked to paint about life in the countryside where he grew up. Sam's family were members of the Chagga people, a group who have been farmers around Mount Kilimanjaro for a long time.

He painted scenes of everyday life in the village and often painted people working together.


Group discussion: people working together

Look at this painting with your class.

Cutting Wood

Cutting Wood

Sam Joseph Ntiro (1923–1993)

Argyll and Bute Council

Ask your students what they think is happening in the picture.

  • What does the painting show?
  • How many people can you see?
  • What do you think the people are doing?
  • What do you think they will do with the wood? Can you think of anything we make using wood?

Ask your students to think about how Sam Ntiro has painted the scene.

  • How has Sam Ntiro suggested that the figures are in a forest or jungle?
  • What does the forest look like? What does it make you feel? Is it somewhere that you would like to explore?
  • How has he painted the figures? How do they stand out against the forest?

Questions guidance

The painting Cutting Wood shows a group of seven people in a forest chopping wood. They may use the wood to make a fire for cooking food. Wood is also used to build houses and make other objects such as furniture or tools.

Sam Ntiro has depicted the forest by painting lots of different trees. He hasn't used lots of colours to paint the forest, suggesting that the big trees are blocking out any sunlight and making the forest dark and shadowy. The bright clothing that the people are wearing stands out against the darkness of the forest that surrounds them. 

The shapes of the figures in the painting look very similar. Their individual features aren't defined. Perhaps Sam Ntiro wanted to emphasise the shared task of the figures, and that they are working together towards a shared goal.

Banana Harvest

Here is another painting by Sam Ntiro showing people working together.

Banana Harvest

Banana Harvest

Sam Joseph Ntiro (1923–1993)

Bristol Museums, Galleries & Archives

Discuss the painting with your students.

  • What do you think the people are doing in this painting? (You might have to look carefully and closely for a clue!)
  • Why do you think they are bending the trees?
  • How does the painting show the people working together? What different activities can you see the people doing?

Questions guidance

The painting shows people harvesting bananas. Men and women are working in groups. A group of men are bending the branches of a banana tree with a long stick so that they can reach the bananas. Another group are cutting a bunch of bananas off the bent tree. A group of women are bending down over the cut bunches of bananas and preparing them to be carried away.

Look again!

  • Can you spot the bananas in the painting?
  • What does the painting tell us about how bananas grow?
  • How different do they look from the bananas that we eat?
  • Have a look at the leaves of the banana trees – what do they look like?

Bananas grow in big bunches. They are harvested when they are green as this keeps them in better condition for transporting them. They turn yellow when they are ripe and ready to eat.


Group discussion: comparing cultures

With your class compare this painting showing a fruit harvest by Scottish artist John Johnstone, with Sam Ntiro's Banana Harvest.

The Fruit Pickers

The Fruit Pickers 1979

John Johnstone (b.1941)

Dundee Art Galleries and Museums Collection (Dundee City Council)

Ask your students what they think John Johnstone's painting shows, and think about the similarities and differences between this painting and Banana Harvest.

  • What do you think these people are picking?
  • Can you spot a dog? Can you spot a man having a break and eating a sandwich?!
  • Have you ever picked blackberries or raspberries from bushes?
  • What tasks are the different people doing in the painting? Is there anything that is similar in this scene compared with Sam Ntiro's painting of banana harvesting?

Discussion thoughts

The fruit pickers are picking raspberries. The raspberries are growing on tall-stemmed canes, not on trees as the bananas grow. (When you see raspberries growing wild in the countryside the bushes they grow on don’t look as neat as this!)

The harvesting scene is similar to the scene in Sam Ntiro's painting in that the people are working together to harvest fruit. Some are picking the fruit and some are putting the fruit into baskets ready to be taken away to markets or shops.


Activity: village life home and away

Task your students with exploring more paintings by Sam Ntiro showing village life in Tanzania. This could be an individual activity for the classroom or homework, or students could work in small groups.

  • Choose a painting from the three paintings shown below.
  • Write a brief description of what you can see in the painting. What does the painting show?
  • Are there any similarities between the things or activities shown in the painting and life in the region where you live? What are the differences?
  • Draw a picture showing an equivalent or similar scene in your town, city or village. You could show the homes that people live in, or groups chatting on the street or animals in a field (if you live near the countryside.)

Once your students have completed their tasks, ask them to share their ideas as a class.

Painting thoughts

The first painting shows a village in Tanzania. (It is not the village that Sam Ntiro grew up in, but his village might have looked a little like this.) The houses in the village are clustered together. We can see a fence and a garden just as many houses in the UK have. But the houses look very different from the type of house we might see in Scotland or the rest of the UK. They are not built from bricks or stone with tile or slate roofs. Many houses in African villages are built using a wooden frame and a mixture of stones and dried mud to make the walls. The roofs are often made from a thatch of leaves or grasses.

The second painting shows people chatting in a group, this is an activity that most of us will recognise. We often see groups of people chatting in the street, outside school or in a park.

The third painting shows cattle drinking water from a trough. This will be a familiar scene for students who live in or near the countryside. The landscape is hilly and dry-looking but it doesn't look like a desert as there are lots of trees in all the paintings.

Making activity: picturing everyday life

Task your students with making a drawing or painting that shows a scene of people working or playing together in the place where they live. The suggestions below provide some ideas for planning the picture.

Sources and starting points

Discuss activities that people do together with your students. These might include:

  • playing sports or games
  • having a picnic or eating a meal
  • reading a story together in class or at home
  • people working together – such as the woodcutters or harvesters in the paintings we have looked at

In the carousel below are more paintings from Art UK's website showing people taking part in shared activities.

Choose two of the paintings to look at with your students. Try and choose paintings that show very different scenes or where the artists have used very different approaches.

Discuss the paintings as a class.

  • What are the people doing in the picture?
  • How has the artist painted the activity? How have they arranged the people? Do the people fill the picture or are they little – like busy ants!?
  • How have they set the scene? What else is in the painting? What is in the background?

Picture planning

Ask your students to decide what they will draw or paint, and to share their ideas with the rest of the class. (This might help students to pinpoint a plan and articulate their ideas.)

Use these prompt questions to help them to think about and plan their pictures.

  • What are the different things people might be doing in your picture? (For example, if it's a football game, some people might be running after the ball, someone might be kicking the ball and some people might be watching the game and cheering on the players.)
  • Where are the people? Are they outside? Are they inside? What will the background of the picture be?
  • Are you going to draw or paint groups of tiny people in a big landscape (as with some of Sam Ntiro's paintings)? Or will the people fill the paper?

Bedtime Story

Bedtime Story 1992

Anita Klein (b.1960)

Leicestershire County Council Artworks Collection

Extension activities

Our sense of place

Sam Ntiro was an ambassador for Tanzania in the 1960s. Task your students with thinking about what they would share about the place where they live if they were an ambassador. They could collect images and write brief texts about their sense of place which could be presented either in notebooks, as a digital presentation or as an inspiration or mood board.

This would work well as an individual study or homework project.

  • What do you want to tell people about where you are from?
  • What does your area look like - what are the buildings like? Is there countryside nearby? Are there any special places that you visit and enjoy?
  • Are there any foods that are local to your area?
  • Are there any local traditions or annual events that you would like to share? (These could be religious or cultural festivals, county show events or events relating to national festivals such as bonfire night.)

Maps and mapping

This resource includes a map of Africa and suggestions for looking at maps of Tanzania with your students. This could be the starting point for a more in-depth investigation into maps and mapping. Explain how maps are used to find our way and how scales are used on maps to measure distance. You could also task your students with making a map of your school or local area.

Useful links:

Introduction to maps for kids
How to teach your kids map-reading skills
Ordnance Survey Map Skills
Exploring maps and models of Earth

Houses around the world

Sam Ntiro's painting Buguruni Village shows typical village houses in Tanzania. Use this painting as a starting point for a geography project looking at houses in different countries and how they are built. You could task students with constructing models of different types of buildings, exploring the properties of construction materials.

These links might be useful:

Twenty-five different types of houses from around the world
BBC Bitesize: The World Around Us, houses and homes
Outdoor Learning Made Easy: construct a Kenyan mud hut
How to build a mud hut

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