This lesson has been adapted from Latino Art & Culture, a bilingual study guide produced by the education department of the Smithsonian American Art Museum.
These standards are achieved through guided work with the teacher.
U.S. History: K-4 (from the National Center for History in the Schools)
• Standard/Topic 3 - The History of the United States: Democratic Principles and Values and the Peoples from Many Cultures Who Contributed to Its Cultural, Economic and Political Heritage
Language Arts (from the National Council of Teachers of English)
• N.4. Students adjust their spoken, written and visual language (e.g., conventions, style, vocabulary) to communicate effectively with a variety of audiences for a variety of purposes.
• N.9. Students develop an understanding of, and respect for, diversity in language use, patterns, and dialects across cultures, ethnic groups, geographic regions and social roles.
- To examine the story of a person from a particular culture group
- To understand how a painting can tell a story
- To develop vocabulary using a painting as a prompt
Make copies of the following image for students or display it on a computer screen:
• Carmen Lomas Garza, Camas para Sueños (Beds for Dreams), 1985, gouache on paper, 58.4 x 44.5 cm (23 x 17 ½ in.). Smithsonian American Art Museum, Museum purchase in part through the Smithsonian Collections Acquisition Program
From the library, obtain a copy of Carmen Lomas Garza's Family Pictures (Cuadros de familia), (Children’s Book Press, 1996). In the book the artist talks about Beds for Dreams and several other paintings depicting her childhood memories of growing up in a traditional Mexican American community.
SET UP AND PREPARE
Dreams (both sleeping and waking)
Background Information for the Teacher
Artist Carmen Lomas Garza
Carmen Lomas Garza is a Chicana (Mexican American) artist who lives in San Francisco but grew up in Kingsville, a medium-size town in southern Texas. Her family history in the Americas dates back to the 1520s when Spanish ancestors on her father's side first came to Mexico from Spain. Her father was born in Nuevo Laredo just before his parents fled from the hardships of the Mexican Revolution by crossing the Rio Grande into Texas. Lomas Garza's mother's family had worked for generations in Texas as ranch hands or vaqueros (cowboys) and on the railroad. A great grandfather on her mother's side walked from Michoacán, Mexico, to Kingsville to work as a chuck-wagon cook on the King Ranch.
Lomas Garza has many stories to tell about her family's rich heritage, about her memories of growing up in south Texas and about how supportive her parents were of her desire to become an artist. In fact, Sueños (Beds for Dreams) is dedicated to her mother, who also wanted to be an artist:
I have a very vivid memory of what people were doing, where they were, what they were wearing, the time of day, the colors of the atmosphere, and so when I recall something, I have the whole picture in my mind. So when I’m getting ready to do a certain painting, I rely on what I already have in my mind, and then I do move some things around. I do have poetic license to make the picture be able to tell the whole story with all its details. . . . That actually is me and my sister Margie up on the roof. We could get up on the roof by climbing up on the front porch. . . . That's . . . my bedroom, actually it's the girls’ bedroom. . . . My sister and I would hide there [on the roof] and . . . we also talked a lot about what it would be like to be an artist in the future because both of us wanted to be [artists]. And I dedicated this painting to my mother because she also wanted to be an artist. And she is an artist, she's a florist now, so her medium is flowers. . . . She gave us that vision of being an artist. . . . That's her making up the bed for us.
--Carmen Lomas Garza, from an interview with Andrew Connors, May 1995, at the Smithsonian American Art Museum.
The self-defining purpose behind Lomas Garza's art is to make it as easy, simple and direct as possible. She wants the Mexican American population to see themselves in her work, recognize that fact and celebrate their rich cultural heritage as a result. It is Lomas Garza's hope that, in this process, others will see similarities to their own cultures, or differences that are interesting to them and that they are curious about. She also wants her work to educate others as to who the Mexican Americans are as a people.
Show students the illustrations in Family Pictures without reading it, then ask them to predict what the book might be about. Explain that they will be looking closely at one of the pictures in this book.
Display the painting Beds for Dreams without revealing the title. Ask students to think of a title and record their suggestions. Then have students suggest words that describe what they see. Make a list of these words on the board. Prompt them to give words that describe:
• Time of day
• Actions (i.e., What are the people in the painting doing?)
After completing this section of the brainstorm, ask students to think beyond what they actually see and describe how the picture makes them feel when they look at it. Put in a separate list any words that describe students’ emotional responses to the painting or the story they think it depicts (e.g., scary, naughty, peaceful). Responses may be very different from each other but all are valuable; the objective is to distinguish between what they can see and describe and how they feel about what they see.
Have students write a paragraph—or a story with a beginning, middle and end—about what they think is happening in the picture. They should use some of the vocabulary words they have generated. Display the students’ writing with Beds for Dreams as an illustration for it.
Read aloud selections from Lomas’s Family Pictures, which shows activities such as visiting grandparents, a birthday party, cooking and eating).
Then read to students what the artist said when asked about the story in the painting, either from page 30 of Family Pictures, or from this excerpt from the Background Information above:
That actually is me and my sister Margie up on the roof. We could get up on the roof by climbing up on the front porch. . . . That’s . . . my bedroom, actually it’s the girls’ bedroom. . . . My sister and I would hide there [on the roof] and . . . we also talked a lot about what it would be like to be an artist in the future because both of us wanted to be [artists]. And I dedicated this painting to my mother because she also wanted to be an artist. And she is an artist, she’s a florist now, so her medium is flowers. . . . She gave us that vision of being an artist. . . . That’s her making up the bed for us.
--Carmen Lomas Garza, from an interview with Andrew Connors, May 1995, at the Smithsonian American Art Museum
Compare students' story or stories with the artist's story about the picture. Did students infer what was unspoken? Did they guess that the girls were "dreamers"? If not, look again at the painting for clues. (The full moon makes the sky bright; the girls are gesturing upwards as if to hopes and dreams; the mother is taking care of the home; the house looks neat, organized and peaceful. Note, too, that the moon is a traditional symbol of the feminine, of intuitions and feelings, and the possibility of personal growth.) Conclude by asking students what they dream about, what they want to be when they grow up, where they go to dream, etc. (See the Extension below.)
Ezra Jack Keats’s picture book Dreams depicts sleeping dreams with color and abstraction. Develop the many meanings of the word dream, comparing the book to the painting and to the children's own experiences. Are dreams important? Why?
Have students create their own "dream" pictures, one depicting dreams from sleep, the other showing their dreams (hopes) for the future.
For additional teaching resources visit www.SmithsonianEducation.org