America Today Murals

Since summer vacation is coming up and people will be traveling, I’m going to devote the next couple of posts to transportation.

Possible Classroom Concepts: Social Studies – Forms of Transportation, Transporting Goods, Community Jobs, City/ Country, Industrial Revolution, 1920’s U.S. History, Industrial Revolution, Social Commentary

Math – Geometric Shapes

Possible Art Concepts: Art History – Thomas Hart Benton

Elements of Art – Shapes (Geometric and Organic)

Painting, Murals,  Human Figure (movement)

Benton's Instuments of Power

“Instruments of Power”

In previous posts, I’ve been talking about places to find lessons to integrate art into your classroom. Another place is an art museum’s special exhibitions and acquisitions. The Metropolitan Museum of Art recently acquired a set of murals by Thomas Hart Benton entitled America Today. These ten murals were originally created for the board room of the New School for Social Research. Nineteen twenties’ American life is beautifully illustrated in these paintings. I had always known Benton as a Regionalist painter who painted farm scenes of the Midwest. Little did I know that he had lived in New York City for over twenty years before trekking back to the Midwest.

These murals have great examples of transportation and community jobs which could be used by primary teachers. The rest of the murals show New York City people in the midst of the Roaring twenties and prohibition making them more useful in a high school U.S History class. “Instruments of Power”, the largest mural in the series, has a train, a plane and a zeppelin included in it. Benton had been enamored with trains since his childhood and has included trains eight times in seven of these murals. It might be fun for the students to try and find them. Five of the murals have not only forms of transportation, but also community workers. The Mural, “Deep South”, shows all the steps in the cotton industry and how the product is moved. “Midwest” shares farming and logging practices. “Changing West” shows the waning wild west being taken over by oil rigs and airplanes. “Coal” shows the coal mining industry from mine to factory. “Steel” shares the steps in the steel industry. “City Building” shows just what it says. The “City Activities” murals depict modern (if not always wholesome) life in 1920’s New York City. Many famous people and events are illustrated in the in the “City Activities” murals. You can find all these murals here:

http://www.metmuseum.org/about-the-museum/now-at-the-met/from-the-director/2012/benton/slideshow

These murals can be used for both a transportation unit and then be reinforced again in a community workers unit. Here are some questions to ask while viewing these murals. What kinds of transportation do you see? Are some of these vehicles being used to transport goods? How many kinds of workers can you find in these murals?

After identifying different forms of transportation in the murals, students could identify geometric shapes which combine to make up transportation vehicles. (Circles for wheels, squares, rectangles, triangles and half circles for body parts)  Ed Emberley’s  Drawing Book: Make a World is a great place to see forms of transportation broken down into geometric shapes. Cutting and glueing colorful construction paper geometric shapes together, younger students could create vehicles similar to these:  http://www.littlefamilyfun.com/2014/01/build-truck.html Older students would probably make more sophisticated vehicles.

Since Thomas Hart Benton was a mural artist, it might be cool to combine the vehicles your students make into a mural similar to the ones found in these two lessons:  http://growingkinders.blogspot.com/2011/04/transportation.html and   http://plbrown.blogspot.com/2011/12/more-rizzi-cars.html If you wanted to add sky and water vehicles to this backdrop, simply add blue paper to the top and bottom of the wavy green and black center.

Now, if you wish to add some working people to your mural, I think this is a genius way (using a square, a rectangle and 4 pieces of pipe cleaner as a template for a moving figure) for younger students to create a moving figure. Find the idea here: http://kids-finelines.blogspot.com/2012/10/movement-and-texture.html First look at the working people in Benton’s murals. What ways are their bodies moving? Where do the arms and legs bend. The students simply arrange the body parts, trace around with a pencil (creating an organic shape), brush away the body parts, draw in details and color. Cut out your figures and add to mural.

Enjoy your journey through these murals!

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