Thursday, February 26, 2015

Fifth Grade Maccabee Sculptures

Fifth graders recently completed their Maccabee sculptures in time for the Hanukah holiday. This was an intensive unit that began with figure drawing. The students drew from manikins and models to learn how to capture human proportions with the goal of creating a realistic drawing. 

I have a kind of mantra for observational drawing that I like to use with students:
"Listen to your eyes, not your brain."
In other words, imagining the figure of a human could result in a stick figure drawing, but this is just a symbol. In order to draw realistically, you need to make observations with your eyes such to measure proportion, angle, and perspective. Students this diagram, in addition to the wooden manikins, as a basis for their drawings.

When they felt confident in their manikin drawing skills, they moved on and created sketches of their Maccabees. They wrote character sketch sheets with details including their Maccabee's name, occupation, and family life. Then, we moved from 2-D to 3-D with a process that included wire armature, plaster wrap, sewing, sculpting and gluing. The heads are made of apples, which the students carve and then let dry. To carry out their sketches to fruition, students used materials from yarn and fabric to tin foil and mesh. 

Finally, the students posed their sculptures in a special homemade "Maccabee photo booth," which featured scenes from Assyria. Each sculpture is full of personality and life, and I hope you'll take the time to explore them all.

Monday, February 9, 2015

Woven Baskets & the African Art Curriculum

Here at the Rashi School, I teach a K-6 African art curriculum. I have been fascinated with African art since I was an undergraduate and I learned about the profound effect it had on modern artists including Picasso, Brancusi, and Gauguin. I was dismayed to learn that many of these modern artists looked down on African art forms, even while appropriating their aesthetic qualities. 

Photograph by Man Ray, 1926

I began teaching this curriculum eight years ago and it has grown and changed over the years as my knowledge of African art has expanded. In the course of the curriculum, students learn about a wide range of art forms including Kente cloth weavings, African masks, Senegalese metal work, the symbolism of animals in African art, and African textiles. 

Geometric design printed on muslin, fourth grade

Another reason I began teaching the students about African art is because of our school's strong focus on social justice. Every year, through the Tamchui philanthropy program, students learn about charitable organizations and raise money to donate. Many of the organizations are based in, or beneficial to, places in Africa. I felt that while it was valuable for the students to become aware of the poverty that exists in Africa, they should also learn about the cultural riches and diversity.

Third grade mask

This year, first graders looked at beautiful spiral woven baskets from Ethiopia. We discussed the materials and techniques and I passed the baskets around for the students to see and touch. Then, the students wove yarn into repurposed plastic cups to create their baskets.