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Stylized figures: inspired by native American art.

Teaching elementary-level art in the Pacific Northwest makes it natural for me to develop a lesson based on Native American art of the area. The designs of the Northwest Indians can sometimes be a bit too sophisticated for the students to grasp, however, and it can be frustrating when developing such a project.

We have used worksheets for drawing ovoids, S-curves and U-shapes, and used the smart board as a class to come up with combinations. The fifth-graders understand the limited use of color and the creativity of the stylized, flattened three-dimensional animals, fish or birds.

This project had been on the back burner for quite some time. I refined it each year, hoping that this time they would get it. Unfortunately, the students usually re-create what they see from my personal collection of native art I share with them, with no true creative problem solving of their own.

THE SOLUTION Over a Labor Day weekend, my husband and I traveled aboard Amtrak to Glacier National Park. At a trading post there, I came across some note cards by artist Jessie Hummingbird, a Cherokee Indian. His designs were bold, colorful, both geometric and amorphous in shape, and his lines were varied. It was clear to me that this was the solution for my Native American art project dilemma.

Back in the classroom, I shared four of the note cards with students and a website featuring Hummingbird's art works. As they carefully studied them, I wrote on the board what students identified in the art. I then took those key words and related them to the elements and principles of design, which are posted on my classroom wall--something I do with every project.

ON THE FIRST DAY, students used felt markers on copier paper to draw a stylized human form, with Hummingbird's art as inspiration. With markers there is no erasing, so I reminded them to take their time. We reviewed the proportions of the human body, and the importance of drawing large so the areas for color would be of adequate size, much like a stained-glass window.

Three students at a time came to a painting table I had set up and selected one of three shaded colors of tempera. They used brayers to paint a large sheet of paper, which would serve as the background (one color per brayer). I stood by the table, encouraging them to move quickly and be spontaneous in creating the background color. I have found that using brayers is an efficient way for students to get paint onto paper, and it dries within 15 minutes.

ON THE SECOND DAY, students used colored markers to fill in the sections of their human forms, and then used thin black permanent markers to add details and capture a variety of line. Meanwhile, students came three at a time to a table I had set up and lightly sponged one of three tints over the background paper they had prepared on day one, being careful to allow the background color to peek through the sponged texture. During the week between classes, I made three color photocopies of each student's figures.

ON THE FINAL DAY of the project, students cut out their the figures from their three colored copies, and created a construction-paper border using decorative scissors. I had prepared a table with five foam trays, each with a bit of paint straight from the bottle, and sponge daubers.

There were also five large wooden blocks, originally used for batiking in Indonesia. One block was designated for each color, so they would not become muddy. I demonstrated how to paint the wooden block with a sponge dauber, then stamp over the sponged background, If the stamp didn't come out perfectly, it was just fine.

The rest of the period was spent assembling the project. The wet paint helped hold down the images and the patterned borders, until students could reinforce the hold with white glue. This was a full class and the children were excited about the effects and pulling it together. I had their full cooperation.

Not knowing what their end result was going to be really led to an exciting final day for the students. I think part of the success of this project was limiting the use of colors and having students move quickly when using the paints so that everyone could complete theirs. In doing so, there was a level of spontaneity.

While the student art was on display in the hallway, it received more compliments than any other project in the past. The diversity of each one really was exciting!


Elementary students will ...

* be introduced to Native American art and contrast the Pacific Northwest art with that of other tribes and nations.

* draw correct human proportions.

* integrate a complex variety of elements and principles of art.


* Understand and apply media, techniques, and processes.

* Understand the visual arts in relation to history and cultures.


* Examples of Northwest Indian art

* Black permanent markers

* Colored markers

* 8.5" x 11" copier paper

* 18" x 24" multimedia paper

* Tempera paint

* Brayers, sponges and sponge daubers

* Wood blocks for stamping

At the time of this project, Susie B. Jensen was an art specialist at Sacred Heart School in Bellevue, Washington.
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Author:Jensen, Susie B.
Publication:Arts & Activities
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Jan 1, 2013
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