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Georgia on our minds.

GEORGIA On Our Minds

Georgia O'Keeffe has always been one of my favorite painters. A recent national exhibit of her work renewed my interest, and when I heard that she was studied in the fourth grade social studies curriculum, Georgia was definitely on my mind. Finding a way to include her in a painting project for my students wasn't hard after I received the extraordinary book Georgia O'Keeffe: One Hundred Flowers for Christmas. As an introduction to O'Keeffe's work, this book would be just the motivation. And what better time to paint flowers than in the dead of winter?

My students had used tempera and watercolor before, knew the primary and secondary colors, and had a beginner's knowledge of color mixing. We began, of course, by looking at O'Keeffe's flowers. My students were astonished by their size, color and boldness. Oohs and aahs greeted every page. When I showed a photo of O'Keeffe, even her face made a hit! (Seeing faces helps kids connect artists and their work.)

Then we set out to create our own flower paintings. Our scale was large - 18" x 24" (46 cm x 61 cm) paper. With O'Keeffe as a role model, how could we begin smaller? Each child drew one petal and one leaf on oaktag and cut these designs out. Using the petal template, they created flowers: budding, blooming and wilting. In this lesson we took note of O'Keeffe's composition. How did she place just one flower? How much detail did we see? What else was in the painting? We used the leaf forms to set off the flowers, and designed stems and stalks to connect them. Then came tendrils, seeds, pistils, stamens, bugs - anything that might be on a flower.

Students used watercolor to paint the petals of the flowers. We talked about how translucent and fragile watercolor can look, then they mixed washes in colors they liked. Petal by petal the flowers came to life. As the children got the knack of gliding with their brushes, pleased murmurs filled the room: they were enjoying the sensation of laying a wash.

Next came tempera. I reminded the children of its opaque quality and that it could be lightened with white. The tempera became the greens, browns and yellows of the stems and leaves. Here we looked at O'Keeffe again. How did she suggest three-dimensional forms? How did she use the contrast between dark greens and lighter yellow-greens to bring shapes forward or to turn a stem into a cylinder? The children were impressed with their ability to create three-dimensional effects through color mixing.

Last, we chose a background. (By this time, my students were fondly referring to Georgia, and even knew about husband Alfred Steiglitz and his photography.) We noted O'Keeffe's use of contrast and also realized that a background didn't have to be a uniform color; light and shadow could be suggested with varied tones.

After more than six sessions of absorbing work, the pictures were finished. The children were proud of the stunning results, and their efforts were recognized by teachers and members of the community alike. Perhaps what pleased me most was the fact that this unit incorporated several of my art-teaching goals. It set students a demanding but solvable problem, it asked them to use techniques and media they had already learned while introducing new ones, and it was an informed exposure to adult art and art history.

For our Mystery Artist of the Month contest, a guessing competition that the whole school participates in, I chose O'Keeffe's Ranchos Church. I wondered if my painters would see the same monolithic quality to her landscape that they had seen in her flowers? Sure enough, a fourth grader guessed it was her. In North Berwick, Maine, at least, Georgia is on the fourth grade mind.

PHOTO : Jeff Hackett, age 10.
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Title Annotation:Georgia O'Keeffe
Author:D'Abate, Bonnie
Publication:School Arts
Date:Jan 1, 1990
Previous Article:Move over, Picasso.
Next Article:Through the eyes of O'Keeffe.

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