Grades 9-12: The Huichol Community of Mexico: Communicating with Symbols
Students create a class mural after studying symbolism and how symbols are a part of the culture of Mexico's Huichol people.
- Grades: 9–12
- learn about the history and symbolic art of the Huichol Indians of Mexico
- write a story using a visual as a prompt
- design a visual story using personal symbols
- create a Huichol-inspired class mural that reflects the themes of community and nature
- organize a school-wide presentation and mural unveiling
- Large plastic beads in assorted colors
- Poster board
- Tacky glue
- Yarn (optional)
- Huichol Image 1 (PDF)
- Huichol Image 2 (PDF)
- Huichol Image 3 (PDF)
- Huichol Image 4 (PDF)
- Huichol Image 5 (PDF)
- Huichol Image 6 (PDF)
- Map (PDF) and Huichol Background Information
- Huichol Symbols Reference Chart (PDF)
Set-Up & Prepare
- Cut cardboard into 6-inch x 6-inch squares
- Read Background Information study aid on the Huichol
Day 1: Introduction/Discussion
Step 1: Guide students in a small group discussion using some of these questions as prompts. Students may work in groups and report their answers to the rest of the class.
- What are some ways that we can learn about other cultures or communities?
- How do you think symbols play a role in communicating with others?
- Can you give some examples of how art can sometimes represent a particular culture or community?
Step 2: As you distribute copies of Huichol Image 1 and Image 2 to each group, explain to students that in the mountains of northwestern Mexico, a community of Huichol (wee-chol) Indians have been creating beautiful art for centuries. Their artistic and symbolic creations reflect their spiritual wisdom and identity, communicating myths, legends and beliefs. The Huichol continue to practice religious ceremonies honoring creation to this day. (For more details, see the Map and Huichol Background Information .)
Step 3: Using the Huichol Symbols Reference Chart , direct students to examine the images you distributed and ask them to identify some of the Huichol symbols and their meanings.
- What types of symbols do you identify on the two images?
- If you were to categorize these symbols, what categories would you put them in?
- Based on the two images, which plant or animal is most important to the Huichol and how can you tell?
- Based on the symbolism in these bead paintings, what can you infer about the Huichol belief system?
Step 4: After a brief discussion, explain to students that the Huichol people continue to celebrate religious ceremonies in honor of creation and its elements — water, earth, fire and wind — as well as plants and animals. Their philosophy calls for harmony with nature and the universe, and their artwork and its symbols reflect those beliefs.
Step 5: If time permits, ask your students to find and list any representations of the four elements: earth, water, wind and fire. (For example, flowers come from the earth, candles represent fire, birds fly through the wind, corn needs water to grow, etc.)
Day 2: Using Visual Prompts
Step 1: For this creative writing activity, Huichol Image 3 and Image 4 , and have students select one of the two images to inspire their story.
Step 2: Direct students to take a close look at the figures, colors and shapes in the Huichol bead painting and answer the following questions. The answers will help them focus on developing characters, conflict, setting and plot.
- When and where does the story take place?
- What are the names of the characters?
- Can you describe in detail what they are like?
- What was the scene before this image?
- How does the story begin?
- What is happening in the bead painting?
- What are the characters thinking?
- What will happen next?
- What will the characters do? Why?
- What is the conflict in the story?
- How does it get resolved?
Day 3: Creating a Visual Story
Step 1: Show students Huichol Image 5 and explain to them that they are looking at a Huichol yarn painting that depicts an offering of a deer to Grandfather Fire. The artist has chosen those symbols to represent an important ritual that the community performs in order to keep the universe in balance. Ask your students to identify some of the symbols they recognize.
Step 2: Have students brainstorm symbols that represent themselves, their family or their community so they can create a visual story about their identity. Each student should list at least four symbols and explain their significance.
Step 3: Next, ask students to make a sketch of their symbols, drawing each on a 6-inch-square piece of paper. Explain that many Huichol symbols are geometric and symmetrical.
Step 4: Once they have drawn their symbols in pencil, have students trace the outlines of their symbols with a dark marker and color in the shapes or empty spaces using markers of bright, and contrasting colors. To create a textural look, they can fill in the shapes with circular lines to resemble yarn or with colored circles to resemble beads. (See samples below.) Or as an additional challenge, they may glue on yarn and mount the piece on cardboard to prevent the paper from warping. (See Huichol Image 5 .)
Step 5: Direct students to write a brief explanation of their Huichol-inspired visual story on the back of their piece or make a symbol reference chart to accompany their visual story.
Day 4: Reflecting on your Community
Step 1: Organize students into small groups and ask them to read the Huichol Background Information .
Step 2: After students read the selection and you check for comprehension, ask students to answer the following questions:
- Why do the Huichol people create art?
- What are the elements of nature that they honor and celebrate?
- What are some of the messages their art tells us? Are the messages relevant to us? Why?
Step 3: Using this new knowledge of the Huichol and their nature-based philosophy, ask students to think about how their community feels about nature and the environment. For homework, ask them to make a list of positive and negative environmental issues that they would like to raise to their community. They may interview family and friends to investigate further and add to their list.
Days 5-7: Making a Huichol Mural for the Classroom
Step 1: Ask students to use their notes and research to develop at least 6 symbols that represent elements of nature, people, animals, events or ideas. The symbols should communicate messages about their community’s environmental issues.
Step 2: Direct students to sketch the symbols on a separate sheet of paper before they transfer them to a 6-inch-square piece of cardboard and begin their Huichol-inspired bead painting. Students should follow these instructions:
|STEP 1||STEP 2||STEP 3||STEP 4|
|Gather materials: cardboard, beads, glue and poster board||Transfer and trace the outlines of symbols directly onto the cardboard||Fill in one symbol at a time by gluing beads directly onto the cardboard||Glue beads onto all empty spaces so the entire panel is covered with beads|
Step 3: For an additional challenge and to encourage students to work together, students may connect some of their panels with others in the mural by continuing specific images throughout. For instance, some of the panels can be connected by a road. Four panels can come together to depict a sun or moon, and so on.
Step 4: Once students finish their squares, they should glue them to a larger poster board, forming a mural. You can glue, tape or staple the larger poster boards together until all student pieces are included. The entire mural should form a square or a rectangle. (Show students Huichol Image 6 as an example.)
Step 5: To complete the project, offer extra credit to students who create more than one panel. Once the entire square or rectangle is finished, ask students to create a border by decorating 3-inch x 6-inch cardboard panels that will frame the entire mural.
Step 6: Have all students work together on the dedication program, presenting their individual pieces as well as the overall message of the mural. They may want to write an artist statement that accompanies and explains their artistic vision. In addition, ask them to focus on how their classroom worked in community.
NL-ENG. K-12.1 Reading for Perspective
NL-ENG. K-12.2 Understanding the Human Experience
NL-ENG. K-12.4 & 12.5 Communication Skills & Strategies
NL-ENG. K-12.9 Multicultural Understanding
NL-ENG. K-12.11 Participating in Society
NL-ENG. K-12.12 Applying Language Skills
NA-VA.9-12.4 Understanding the Visual Arts in Relation to History and Cultures
NA-VA.9-12.5 Reflecting Upon and Assessing the Characteristics and Merits of their Work and the Work of Others
NA-VA.9-12.6 Making Connections Between Visual Arts and Other Disciplines