Thursday, January 29, 2009

Art Study: Native American Art

Our fall history study: Native American history and culture. I wrote a review of our Native American study using History Pockets: Native Americans, and promised an overview of our art studies. Finally, as promised, here it is. In addition to the History Pockets, we read a few pages from Native American Art (Art in History), whichever section dovetailed the best with the art project we'd planned.

Buckskin Painting (Pictured above)
From Native American Art (Art in History), Petra Press.

You need:
A brown grocery or lunch bag
Household wax (or an old candle, in a pinch)
Thin dishtowel or rag
An iron

Cut and flatten a brown paper bag. Using crayon draw a picture on the bag. Crumple and flatten and crumple the paper a few times to make it soft and wrinkled. Rub wax all over the paper, cover with the dishtowel and iron.

Read: The Legend of the Indian Paintbrush, Tomie DePaola and Storm Maker's Tipi, Paul Goble.

Coil Pots
Internet lesson plan here
You need:
Air-dry clay (You can find this at any craft store.)
A cup of water
Acrylic paints
Glaze, if desired

Coil pots are a fun and easy project. Many Native American peoples made pots and other useful items out of clay. Flatten your clay and cut circles for the base, roll snakes of clay, and coil them into pots. Dipping fingers into the water, then smoothing the water onto the coils allows the coils to hold together better. Let the pots dry according to the clay package directions, then paint with acrylic paints. If desired, paint with gloss once the paint has dried to make a shiny pot.

The fine young gents had a fine time with this project. So much so that I bought more clay when I went to the store-that-shall-not-be-named. (Shhhhh....I went to Walmart. It was next door to another stop, so I shopped there. Don't tell anyone who knows me.) The value of the coil pots was not necessarily in the end product. As you can see, despite our reading and looking at clay art online and in our art book, the pots don't necessarily look as though we're imitating Native American clay pots. The value of the clay pots was in the experiences with clay. What an adventure! The guys dutifully made their clay pots, but were most interested in finding out exactly what they could do with the clay. Make sure to include lots of time for experimentation.

Sand Painting
Lesson here

You need:
Posterboard, cardboard, or other fairly stiff paper
Colored sand (buy it at the craft store, or color your own using play sand and tempera paint) in small dishes
Lots of newspaper and a rimmed baking sheet

Easy idea. Really really messy. And I don't usually mind a mess. Definitely look at pictures of Native American sand painting beforehand. We got the desired result: An afternoon of color, a chance to experiment with new materials, an opportunity to look at a kind of art we'd not studied before and even better, to try it ourselves.

With older children, try this: Poetry and sand painting lesson

Directions here at Enchanted Learning
You need:
A bendable twig
Thin wire
Twine or yarn
Beads and feathers

Dreamcatchers are fun and fairly simple to make. We used twigs from the back yard maple to make our hoops and fastened them with leftover wire from a beading craft kit. The fine young gents wanted to use our orange twine, but a yarn or a rougher string would probably work better, as the nylon twine was slippery against the slippery bark of the maple twig. The gents had a grand time decorating with the beads and feathers, and 3 months later, the dreamcatchers are still hanging on the fine young gents' bedposts.

Information, legends and directions for making dreamcatchers

More great directions for making Native American dreamcatchers

Dreamcatcher store, books and links

Clay bead necklaces
Lesson here
You need:
Air-dry clay
Clay tools or similar for carving lines and shapes into the wet clay
String or twine or leather laces
Glass beads (optional)
Blue paint

Make your beads out of clay-- flat, square, round. Experiment with different shapes and sizes. Once you've created a bead, etch designs and patterns into it using clay tools, bamboo skewers, or the wrong end of a cheap-o paintbrush. Let dry according to clay package directions. Paint blue. When dry, string them onto the string (with or without glass beads) using knots to hold the beads in place.

This project was our favorite. We got to play with clay again. The fine young gents were glowing over their beautiful necklaces and wore thema ll afternoon. Second-grade gent gave his away to the girl next door, and I noticed today that it's still hanging in her play space.

Foil Necklaces
From History Pockets: Native Americans

You need:
Paper and pencil
Cardboard squares
Beads or macaroni beads
Yarn or string (about 18 inches)

Another favorite. Cut a 3x3 paper square. Draw a symmetrical design onto the square and set it aside. (The History Pockets unit provides a design for children to trace if they choose not to create their own.) Cut a 3x3-inch cardboard square and cover it with aluminum foil. Tape the foil at the back of the necklace. Using scissors or a pencil, punch two holes through the top of the square. Place your paper square with the design over the front of the foil-covered cardboard square and trace the design with your pencil, pressing hard. Gently lift away the design once you've finished tracing: The design will be etched into the foil. Decorate your foil square with tiny beads if desired. To make the necklace, put the ends of the string through the holes in your foil-covered square so that the ends hang out the back of the square. String beads (macaroni or otherwise) onto the string if desired. Tie the ends together at the top, leaving room to slip the necklace over your head.

Animal Masks
You need:
Animal stories or imagination activity (optional)
Mask-making materials such as paper mache or Rigid Wrap
Feathers, fur and other decorations

We made up our own mask study two years ago. (In two parts: Masking the Masks and Designing the Masks). This fall's History Pockets study included a mask project, but it involved coloring and cutting a paper drawing of a mask. We decided to make the real thing.

We'd been reading about Native American vision quests and totems and the kinds of animals living in proximity with Native American people, so to choose mask subjects, we used a guided imagination activity from Keepers of the Earth: Native American Stories and Environmental Activities for Children, by Joseph Bruchac. As I read out loud, the fine young gents imagined themselves running, leaping, flying through the forest, and when each gent opened his eyes he chose the animal he'd been imagining. We had a racoon, a deer and a black-capped chickadee. The deer changed his mind and decided he'd rather be a chickadee too, so that he could make a beak instead of antlers. The fine young chickadees were quite focused for this lengthy project, concerned with painting the bird colors just so, and begging for black feathers to glue onto the bird masks. The littlest racoon gent just loved the mess, and happily dabbed and globbed and painted and glued. The reulst was far more satisfying than a paper-and-marker project.

Native American masks as art at

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