Clay-Relief Masterpieces

Standards Met: CCSS.ELA-Literacy.CCRA.W.7; McREL Visual Arts Standard 1

What You Need: Prints of images by well-known artists, clay, paint

What to Do: Students in Erica Stinziani’s class explore an artist’s life in three dimensions. Stinziani, a K–5 art teacher at Morley Elementary School in West Hartford, Connecticut, and author of the blog Art Project Girl, introduces her fifth graders to Vincent van Gogh, Georgia O’Keefe, and other artists. Then, small groups choose their favorite one to study, first researching basic information, such as when the artist lived, what works he or she is best known for, and three interesting facts about the artist’s life. (One kid-friendly resource is the National Gallery of Art’s NGAkids Art Zone.) Next, students pursue the following sets of questions: (1) Did the artist face a challenge that he/she had to overcome? What was the challenge? How did he/she overcome it? (2) What was the artist inspired by? How did he/she get ideas? They can respond in writing or present their responses orally to the class. Lastly, students immerse themselves in one of the chosen artist’s paintings. Using clay and following a print of their artist’s work, each group models a 3D replica of their favorite artwork, painting it after it hardens.


Food for Thought

Standards Met: CCSS.ELA-Literacy.CCRA.R.7; McREL Visual Arts Standard 4

What You Need: Vertumnus, by Giuseppe Arcimboldo; How Are You Peeling? by Joost Elffers and Saxton Freymann; Play With Your Food, by Joost Elffers; pastels; pencils

What to Do: Nora McDonough, an art teacher and blogger at Waitsfield and Fayston elementary schools in Vermont’s Mad River Valley, uses Renaissance artist Arcimboldo’s humorous painting Vertumnus—a portrait of the Holy Roman Emperor constructed entirely of fruits and vegetables—to inspire her fourth graders.

After showing a video biography of the artist, McDonough provides background information about the Renaissance era, including its emphasis on invention in the arts and sciences. Students then use research to compare and contrast Arcimboldo’s paintings with the work of other Renaissance artists. For example, students might write a short essay comparing Arcimboldo with Da Vinci, who created detailed sketches of plants (other Renaissance artists who did botanical and zoological drawings include Conrad Gesner and Ulisse Aldrovandi). The essay should include a paragraph giving similarities between the two artists’ works (e.g., their highly detailed style and their focus on plant and animal parts) and a paragraph contrasting their work (such as whether the artists are being serious or humorous).

Next, McDonough has students compare Arcimboldo’s work with that of contemporary “food artists” by exploring the books How Are You Peeling? and Play With Your Food, which feature humorous personified fruits and vegetables. Finally, students sketch their own produce portraits, reconstructing their faces with gourds, grapes, green beans, and so on, and then finish them in oil pastels.


Beyond the Lens

Standards Met: CCSS.ELA-Literacy.CCRA.W.7; CCRA.W.9

What You Need: Dorothea’s Eyes, by Barb Rosenstock; Jazz Day: The Making of a Famous Photograph, by Roxane Orgill

What to Do: What stories can a photograph tell? First, read aloud Dorothea’s Eyes, which is about the Depression-era photographer Dorothea Lange. Discuss how Lange’s decision to photograph ordinary people who faced great hardships shaped her career. Next, read aloud the introduction and several poems from Jazz Day, about the making of a famous Harlem Renaissance photograph. Point out that the author mixed facts and her imagination to write poems about the people in the photo.

Tell students they will blend research and their own imaginations to write poems about Dorothea Lange’s photos. Form small groups and have them research the Great Depression and the Dust Bowl. Then, look at Lange’s photos in Dorothea’s Eyes and discuss the emotions conveyed (e.g., hopeful, worried). Have each student print out or draw a likeness of one Lange photo of their choice and write a poem from that person’s point of view. Encourage students to combine perception with research to write the poems.


Mootisse Style

Standards Met: CCSS.ELA-Literacy.CCRA.R.7; McREL Visual Arts Standard 2

What You Need: Henri Matisse cut-out paintings, such as Polynesia or The Parakeet and the Mermaid (which depict scenes of Polynesia) and Sorrow of the King or Icarus (depicting dancers); When Pigasso Met Mootisse, by Nina Laden; construction paper; scissors; glue stick

What to Do: Fourth graders at Lake Local Schools in Hartville, Ohio, explore a faraway culture through the eyes of Matisse. To begin, art teachers Joni Susa and Jamie Stegner show students examples of Matisse’s famous cutout paintings, brightly colored collages inspired by Matisse’s trip to Tahiti. Susa then reads When Pigasso Met Mootisse to teach students more about Matisse’s style, which relies on vivid color to convey emotion and movement. Next, students choose a Polynesian culture to research, such as the Maori of New Zealand or native Hawaiians, compiling information about the culture’s dress, art, and customs in a chart or a short report. Then, students combine details from their research with Matisse’s cutout style to create colorful collages of Polynesian dancers. To help students construct the collages, Stegner shows them other examples online. To conclude, students have a celebration day where they dress up in bright Polynesian colors and explore songs, stories, and dances of the South Pacific.


From Experience to Art

Standards Met: CCSS.ELA-Literacy.CCRA.W.3; McREL Visual Arts Standard 5

What You Need: A Poem for Peter: The Story of Ezra Jack Keats and the Creation of The Snowy Day, by Andrea Davis Pinkney; books by Ezra Jack Keats; construction paper; tissue paper; glue; art supplies

What to Do: Back in the 1960s, the author Ezra Jack Keats didn’t see his own experiences reflected in the picture books that were available—so he decided to change that. Read aloud A Poem for Peter, about Keats’s creation of the first popular African-American picture-book hero (Peter, in The Snowy Day). Point out ways Keats brought his own Brooklyn neighborhood to life through his illustrations by adding details such as row houses, front stoops, and colorful fabric patterns.

Then, have groups of students hunt through several of Keats’s books, such as The Snowy Day and Whistle for Willie, looking for specific details in the illustrations that show Keats’s neighborhood and the people who inhabited it. Discuss the examples students find.

For homework, have students make a list of images and details they find in their own neighborhoods. They should also bring in collaging materials that remind them of home, such as leaves, grass, newspaper, fabric, and so forth. Have students use these images and details and the collage materials to write and illustrate stories that bring their own neighborhoods to life.


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Photo: Courtesy of Erica Stinziani