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Cereal box totems. (Recycling renaissance).

Multicultural projects have always been popular in the field of art education. Whenever plausible, it is a good idea to correlate art projects with subjects or themes studied in the classroom. When my fourth-graders began a project about the Northwest American Indian tribes, it provided the perfect opportunity for us to create a three-dimensional totem pole in art class.

Symbolizing the important stories or people of a tribe, totem poles are usually carved from a solid cedar log. With some research, I found several resources suggesting different ways to build a totem pole, including using cardboard and cutting tabs with X-ACTO[R] knives--not a suitable technique with this grade level.

I ultimately decided on an easier medium: empty cereal boxes. Cereal boxes are readily available and their differing sizes work well to give the totem pole a non-uniform, carved quality. With the classroom teacher's help, students brought in empty cereal boxes to recycle in art class.

The students already had some knowledge about American Indians and totem-pole themes and styles, so we did not have to take an extra day for historical research. Examples of totems were viewed and discussed. We asked ourselves: What do the totems symbolize? Are the faces human, animal or both? How are the faces designed? I pointed out the elements of line and shape used to show expression and character in most of the Northwest American Indian art.

When it was time to start working, each student was given a box and sheets of 12" x 18" construction paper in neutral shades of yellow, tan and white. Students were instructed to put glue around the front edge of the box, placing the construction paper in the middle. The students then turned the box over, gluing the remaining right and left sides of the construction paper around the box and trimming any excess paper. If the paper does not cover the entire back of the box it will not matter since the back will not be seen when the totems are mounted on the wall. Once the background paper is in place, the boxes are ready to be painted.

Students used a colorful assortment of paints to add features to their original totem piece. I was both surprised and impressed with the imaginative designs that the students created--a variety of animals and human-like faces came to life.

Before the end of class, some totems needed second coats of paint. Details and designs could also be added in a second class session. The students were very proud of their original designs. Some chose animals that "matched" their personalities, or used different expressions for faces. They found that they could easily express themselves by making "mean," "funny" or "beautiful" faces.

The best way to display the totem is to simply tape the boxes to the wall, stacking them until you reach a desired height. (You may end up with more than one totem pole for each class.) In keeping with tradition, top the largest totem pole with an eagle. The eagle is easily made using any recycled cylindrical container and attaching an eagle "head" and "wingspan." Hallways or auditoriums should be considered when displaying the class totem poles. You can also display them outside of the classroom door or inside their classroom.

This totem-pole project is an impressive and fairly easy multicultural assignment to complete. It's also a great way to put recycled cereal boxes to creative use.

The project gave fourth-graders a way to create their own "tribe," while including their own individual identities. Who would have guessed that all this could be created as easily as snap, crackle, pop--using empty cereal boxes!


* Cereal boxes--any size (students should write their names on the inside flap)

* 12" x 18" white, yellow and tan construction paper

* Glue

* Scissors

* Tempera paint

* Water

* Brushes


Students will ...

* be introduced to artworks from different cultures.

* identify specific works of art as belonging to particular cultures and time periods.

* explore unique properties and potentials of materials.

* use the elements of line and shape to design an imaginary face.

AnnMarie Jones teaches art at Johnson Street and Stokesdale Elementary Schools in Greensboro/High Point, N.C.
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Author:Jones, AnnMarie
Publication:Arts & Activities
Article Type:Brief Article
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Jun 1, 2002
Previous Article:Strange Creatures: an additive wood sculpture project. (Recycling renaissance).
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