Black History Storytelling

Possible Classroom Concepts: Social Studies – African American History (Harriet Tubman, Frederick Douglass), People Who Make A Difference

Language Arts – Story Telling, Literature

Possible Art Concepts: Art History –  Jacob Lawrence, Faith Ringgold

Illustration, Egg Tempera, Story Quilts

As promised in my last post, I will be covering storytelling artists, not just any old story telling artists, but African American storytelling artists.

In their fourth grade year, our students study their home state, Maryland. It just so happens that Harriet Tubman and Frederick Douglass were born on Maryland’s Eastern Shore. It, also, just so happens that Jacob Lawrence painted two series of storytelling paintings illustrating the lives of Harriet Tubman’s and Frederick Douglass’ life. (If Lawrence sounds familiar, it’s because I’ve talked about him before in this post.) So, in my teaching days, when I wanted to correlate with Social Studies, I often incorporated Jacob Lawrence themed lessons. Read more about Lawrence and Harriet Tubman here. Lawrence later incorporated some of Tubman’s painting series in a picture book entitled, Harriet and the Promised Land. You can find a video narration of this book here. You can find examples of the Frederick Douglass series here and here.

When I taught Jacob Lawrence, I would teach him in conjunction with drawing an action figure similar to how it is taught here. We would look at the lives of Harriet Tubman and Frederick Douglass through Jacob Lawrence’s eyes. Sometimes, we’d investigate Tubman’s and Douglass’ life more closely and students would choose one life event and illustrate it.

Other times, I asked students to illustrate an event in their own lives.

This time, I asked students to illustrate their favorite event during Barack Obama’s election.

Another African American artist who painted Black history is Faith Ringgold. She’s famous for her story quilts, some of which she turned into picture books which I’ve mentioned here before.  Ringgold also wrote and illustrated a historical fiction book about Harriet Tubman, entitled Aunt Harriet’s Underground Railroad in the Sky. You can find a video of this picture book here.

As you can see, whether you are studying African American history, people who make a difference, or simply are looking for a good book for story time, you can easily incorporate a little art history and art concepts.

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Happy Black History Month! Drop by again soon.

Before They Were Presidents

Possible Classroom Concepts: Social Studies – U.S. History ( George Washington and Abraham Lincoln), Revolutionary War, Civil War

Language Arts – Storytelling, Folklore, Historical Fiction

Possible Art Concepts: Art History – Grant Wood, Eastman Johnson

History Paintings, Portraits

Sorry this is coming after President’s Day, but I just had to cover the Chinese New Year and the “Year of the Monkey“. I guess if retailers can celebrate President’s Day all month so can we.

I am going to spend the next couple of posts talking about storytelling through art. Today I’m going to talk about paintings of George Washington and Abraham Lincoln in their youth. Through time, some artists created works in response to events occurring around the United States.

Parson Weems' Fable

Grant Wood”s “Parson Weems’ Fable”

Lets begin with the nation’s rejection of the story of George Washington chopping down the cherry tree. In response to the general public’s grief  over Washington’s death,  a parson, named Mason Locke Weems, wrote The Life of Washington the Great. In the fifth edition of the book, the cherry tree story was added. By some accounts, Parson Weems claimed that one of Washington’s distant relatives shared the cherry tree story with him. For years the story was taught in the schools, but with no documentation to prove it ever happened, the story was abandoned. Today this story is considered more of a folktale or historical fiction. After learning this beloved story  was no longer being taught in schools, artist, Grant Wood, created the painting, “Parson Weems’ Fable”, to preserve the folktale. You can find an excerpt from Weem’s book and a first hand account about Wood’s work here. Find two short but sweet explanations of “Parson Weems’ Fable” here and hereThis post has some good questions to use when viewing Wood’s painting. Find an concise informative video here. Wood also created a painting about President Herbert Hoover. Because the president came from meager beginnings and was a fellow Iowan, Wood painted “The Birthplace of Hebert Hoover, West Branch, Iowa”.  Find a great lesson about this painting here. Your students could also compare and contrast “Parson Weem’ Fable” and “The Birthplace of Hebert Hoover, West Branch, Iowa”. 

How about preserving some of George Washington’s other myths? Begin by identifying the myths. You can find some listed here. Then review the characteristics of Wood’s paintings. (Simplified shapes, repeated shapes and colors, illusion of depth)  Have each student choose a myth and draw or paint their interpretation using Grant Wood’s style.

Now let us move onto the time just following Abraham Lincoln’s assassination. To help the nation heal after Lincoln’s assassination, artist, Eastman Johnson painted “Boyhood of Lincoln”. A great lesson about this painting can be found here. During my investigation of Johnson, I learned that he also had a connection to George Washington. Curious? Read about it here.

Bet you never imagined so many correlations coming from just two paintings. I know I didn’t. Hope something here is helpful. Do you have any other thoughts? I’d love to hear them. Simply, click on this post’s title and scroll down to the comment section.

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Hope to see you again real soon.

The Year Of The Monkey

Possible Classroom Concepts: Social Studies – Counties Around The World (China, Japan)

Language Arts-Literature, Symbols, Communication

Possible Art Concepts: Art History – Wang Yani,  Mori Sosen, Au Ho-Nien,  Ohara Koson

Chinese Brush Painting, Symbols

Happy Chinese New Year!


When I heard it was the year of the monkey, I was reminded of a snow monkey lesson I taught when fourth grade still studied Japan. I would begin by talking about Chinese brush painting and how the brush strokes were used for both writing and creating images. Brush of the Gods is a historical fiction picture book that tells the story of Wu Daozi, a painter from the Tang Dynasty and introduces both kinds of brush stroke painting in the process.  The above project took four one hour art classes to complete. I’m sure this would take up way too much instructional time in the regular classroom. So, I’ll make some abbreviated alternatives. A good way to teach the strokes used in Chinese writing or images is to learn how to paint bamboo.  For classroom purposes, you can use watercolors for your bamboo.  Some hints: Notice the brush is held sideways when making the stalk.  I taught the students to “Press and press.” When painting the stalk. The leaves are painted in the same direction as the brush. the stroke for leaves is “Drag press drag” to get the points on either end of the leaves. Now that the students know their way around a brush, they could try out painting some Chinese words and phrases.  If you happen to be studying how communication changes over time, this post may be of interest to you.

If you are introducing the Chinese New year and wish to talk about the year of the monkey, check out child prodigy artist, Wang Yani  and her monkey paintings. See her in action at age four here.


 Mori Sosen’s Monkey Performing the Sanbaso Dance

Or, you might want to read the story behind Sosen’s dancing monkey in the Monkeying Around section of this essay. Look at more Asian monkey paintings herehere, and here. Discuss with students all the different monkey poses. Then have the students create their own monkey pictures. Primary students might create fingerprint or handprint monkeys.  Intermediate students could create a nice furry textured monkey by using the wet on wet watercolor technique. Students simply use a clean wet brush to moisten their paper. Then, they quickly paint in the large shapes that make up their monkey. After the painting is dry, details can be added with a marker.

So, whether you are teaching countries around the world, communication or just need a new literature lesson, I hope you found a little something you can use in your classroom.

Hope you come back soon!

Six Degrees of Barack Obama

Possible Classroom Concepts: Language Arts – Communication, Palindromes, Alphabet

Mathematics- Measurement, Symmetry

Science- Seasons

Possible Art Concepts: Art History – Robert Indiana, Ed Ruscha, Ben Rine, Romero Britto

 Commercial Art, Graphic Design, Graffiti Art, Warm And Cool Colors, Positive And Negative Space

Artists predominately communicate with images, but there are a few who use words. So, you are asking yourself, “What do word artists have to do with Barack Obama?”  While investigating three different word artists, I discovered each had a link with Obama. This reminded me of the “Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon” game or theory. So, I thought, “Hmm, What a coincidence! ‘Six Degrees of Barack Obama’!

Let’s start with Robert Indiana, who is probably the most recognizable word artist. Indiana’s LOVE image has been made into paintings, greeting cards, sculptures and  postage stamps. You can find a short biography about him here and see more of his works here. The word hope also had personal meaning to Indiana. So, in 2008, Indiana began creating artworks in the HOPE image. Indiana had attended art school in Chicago. So, here comes our first Obama link. When he discovered fellow Chicagoan, Barack Obama, was using the word hope in his 2008 presidential campaign, Indiana decided to donate all proceeds from printed images of his Hope series to Obama’s campaign. Indiana also produced a print series on the four seasons. (Note, the fall print reads the same from top to bottom and from bottom to top like a palindrome.)

Ed Ruscha also used graphic commercial lettering in his work. In his early years, like  Robert Indiana, he created one word images. He also painted a HOPE image. Compare the two. In Indiana’s “HOPE”, the letters are hard edged and positive shapes. In Ruscha’s “HOPE”, the letters are negative shapes with a much softer edge. Other one word pantings by Ruscha are WON’TDANCE?, and HONK.  Later in his career, Ruscha used phrases, sometimes superimposed over a photographic background in his paintings. Now, let’s talk about one of these phrase paintings and the first of two links to Barack Obama. First, Ruscha’s,  “I Think I’ll” , painting was chosen by the Obamas for display in their private living quarters of the White House. Barack and Michelle Obama must really love Ruscha because, later, they gifted copies of his print,  “Column With Speed Lines” , to both Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott and British Prime Minister David Cameron.

Our last Obama link comes from British graffiti artist, Ben Rine. One of his works, “Twenty First Century City” , was gifted to President Obama by Prime Minister David Cameron.  Rine not only likes to paint words, but he also likes to paint alphabet letters. He has even painted the entire alphabet on local business shutters around one London city block. What a GREAT way for parents to teach their children the alphabet.

Another artist who occasionally uses words in his work is Romero Britto.  See some of Britto’s word art here.

So, if you are teaching a unit on communication or simply wish to review vocabulary from a recent unit of study, why not make some word art? Look here and here to find word inspired lessons. (Note these two lessons are a kind of Indiana/Britto combination.) Not only can students practice measurement in creating these images, but they can also review symmetry as is seen in this lesson.

If you are studying the four seasons, a Robert Indiana inspired word or poetry lesson would work. Simply have students brainstorm words that remind them of the different seasons like in this lesson. Younger students can choose just one word for their artwork. Older students could write a palindrome. (Such as Brrr Winter Brrr or Fun Fall Fun) Using a white oil pastel, the students write out their word or phrase onto a white paper. Have students fatten their letters and press hard while writing. Next, paint a watercolor seasonal landscape, pattern (leaves, snowflakes, flowers) or an abstract seasonal color design over the page. The words will magically appear.

I hope this post has been inspirational and will help brighten up one of your teaching units.

How would you teach these concepts? I’d love to hear. To share, simply click on the title of this post, scroll down to the comment section.

See you next time!