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American folk art paintings.

My students have always enjoyed an involved American folk art painting lesson. Designed for grades five and six, this unit spans several weeks and incorporates art history, rules of composition, watercolor techniques, and basic critique methods.

Grandma Moses

Anna Mary Robertson Moses, popularly known as Grandma Moses, may be the most famous American folk artist. A practical-minded farm wife born in 1860, she progressed from fancywork embroidery to become a much-beloved memory painter and American icon. A fortuitous combination of original vision, innate talent, spunky character, and long life (she lived to be 101), Moses is known for her landscapes that depict nostalgic views of country life.

Artistic Heritage

For the art history component of this lesson, students read aloud a biography of Grandma Moses and discuss reproductions of her work, along with the work of Mattie Lou O'Kelly. Students also make a folder to hold all their handout materials, visual aids, and works-in-progress. When the completed unit is finished, the entire folder is sent home so that parents can see the comprehensive nature of the students' art project.


The second class involves sketching a landscape or interior scene on watercolor paper. This can take two or three forty-minute classes. When students start a new medium, they are often unsure of how to begin, so examples of former students' work can be very helpful. A list of directions is written on the board, since having specific requirements enables students to quickly decide what to include in their artwork. Because we work on a small scale--no more than 9 x 12" (23 x 31 cm)--students draw two or three buildings, two or more people, two or more animals, and four or more trees in a landscape. We keep the horizon line near the top of the composition to ensure that all objects will fit in the space.

Art Production

Thanks to staff and pupils, I have collected a large supply of calendars and holiday cards to use as inspiration. When we read her biography, we learned that Grandma Moses used similar materials as inspiration for her paintings. Students are encouraged to create their own unique designs. Students with less developed drawing skills often refer to the handout I've prepared with drawings of the facades of buildings.

As students finish their pencil drawings, they use gel pens and permanent markers to trace over them. This keeps the detail strong when watercolor is applied. This age group finds watercolor the hardest medium to master. I prefer liquid watercolors as they are easier for students to control and cleanup is also easier.

I demonstrate the use of number twelve brushes with a quick diluted wash for sky and ground. Later, smaller brushes can be used for buildings, trees, and any other small details, with a more intense shade of liquid watercolors. The snow scenes are perhaps the most satisfying for young artists because the white pearlescent paint they use creates a smooth translucent finish.

Critique and Display

We conclude the unit with an evaluation of the work using a format I found in Let's Meet Famous Artists by Harriet Kinghorn, Lisa Lewis-Spicer, and Jaqueline Badman. To introduce students to the process of critique, I bring in the work of former students. The students find great satisfaction when their works are mounted in display cases in the lobby, as it elicits a positive response from the entire school community. While it's a challenging unit, the students find it very rewarding.


Harriet Kinghorn, Lisa Lewis-Spicer, Jacqueline Badman, T. S. Denison, Let's Meet Famous Artists: A Creative Art Activity Book, 2002.


Students demonstrate how history, culture, and the visual arts can influence each other in making and studying works of art.

WEB LINKS grandma_moses_gallery.aspx

April Hulse Lang is an art teacher at Roland Rogers Elementary School, Galloway, New Jersey.
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Title Annotation:Elementary Studio Lesson
Author:Lang, April Hulse
Publication:School Arts
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Jan 1, 2007
Previous Article:The scientific method and art criticism.
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