Ojibwe Birchbark Boxes - Preview!
I have struggled and struggled to find a great lesson to meet the MN visual art standard:
1. Compare and contrast the connections among
visual artworks, their purposes, and their
personal, social, cultural and historical contexts,
including the contributions of Minnesota
American Indian tribes and communities.
I think I've probably spent an entire week trying to figure out a lesson that wouldn't cost too much or wouldn't take a month to finish. I stumbled on a great instructable on how to construct a round box. I thought this would be a great activity for students to do out of birch bark and tie in with Ojibwe art and culture. Only downside, with 250 students, I'd need A LOT of birch bark. So that's when I came up with my faux birchbark. I used charcoal pencil on white paper and created my own birchbark texture. I added a little coffee stain and some smudging, and voila! "Birchbark" paper. I decided to make a template for the box in advance to prevent any issues with measuring or cutting....saving paper! The template isn't perfect, but it works pretty well. You can download my template below:
Download the Birchbark box template for $3.00 from TPT
I haven't taught this lesson, as I plan to do so next week. I am hoping to start off by having students do a graffiti write of all they know about Native American art and culture. This will give me an idea of what we should cover (what students already know and what needs clarification). I am going to show students some images of the Jeffers Petroglyphs located in Minnesota and we might even compare/contrast with Egyptian hieroglyphics.
Next I will have students create a design on the lid of their box using Ojibwe symbols. I might even have them do a glue resist-- so many choices! Once the design is done, we will construct the boxes. I am having my template printed on ivory cardstock paper to make it more sturdy, but printer paper seems like it works too.
I will be sure to make an update post about how this lesson goes. I think this will make a great end of semester project.
Examples of Ojibwe Birchbark Boxes
I have seen many art teachers attempt a Chihuly-inspired sculpture. This was a quick two-day project that had great results! We collected over 350 plastic bottles from students, parents, and staff over the semester. As a quick project before winter break, we made four Chihuly sculptures.
Students were introduced to the artist Dale Chihuly. We talked about the principles of design of form and movement. We looked at the Mayo Clinic's collection of Chihuly's art in the Gonda Building. Many students were excited about this because they had seen these in real life. We also talked about abstract art and what this meant. We had a short discussion about Chihuly and his team. I asked students if they thought Chihuly was a real artist if he has other people make his work. This created a great discussion/debate about the difference between an artist and a designer.
Students then took a plastic bottle (some chose the same one from their drawing). I told students to choose a bottle that wasn't too thick. The really thin and cheap water bottles worked best. AVOID the gatorade, ICE, and thicker milk/juice bottles. I had students write their name on some masking tape and stick it to the bottom of their bottles. Students then used coarse sand paper to sand their bottles down. This helps the paint stick better.
I used elmer's glue, neon paint, and a small bit of water to create the paint mixture. After students sanded, they immediately painted their bottles. I allowed students to use more than one color and they could also do a design like stripes or polka dots. I told students that it was okay if the paint was thicker in some places than others. Once they were painted, we left them standing up right in the cupboard to dry.
We reviewed form, movement, and abstract art. I did a quick demo on how to the cut the bottle in either a spiral or flower design. I numbered students off 1-2. #1 did a spiral. #2 did a flower. Students cut the bottoms of their bottles off and then cut their design.
I created wire cages with christmas lights in advance. I used string to hang the wire cage from the ceiling. We attached the bottles by tying with string/wire at the opening of the bottle and attaching to the wire cage. I did most of the tying to the cage as it got too chaotic to have all the students at once trying to attach their bottles. Some of the paint flaked off a bit, so we did quite a bit of sweeping. Students who finished early were required to clean up and help students who might have been a bit behind. Once we had them all attached, we lit it up and turned the lights off....there were A LOT of "oooohs" and "aaaaahs". The last part of class we watched a 15-minute Video on Chihuly Chandelier's and Towers and how the glass is blown.
There were four chandelier's total (2 classes for each chandelier). I plan on giving one of the chandeliers to another interested art teacher and keeping one. The other two I am hoping we can raffle off at our end of the semester "classroom art show". I can just see these hanging up in a kid's room or outside on a deck (they are completely outdoors-proof). This was a lesson that EVERY student seemed to enjoy and was capable of doing.
Islamic Clay Tiles
I have seen many art teachers teaching Islamic tiles to middle schoolers. It's a fun lesson and I took it even a step further by teaching addition and subtraction. Students were required to create a 5"x5" clay tile using at least one piece of addition and one piece of subtraction. Students were also required to use radial symmetry in their design and use non-objective shapes, patterns, and lines (no smiley faces or names...or "peace" and "love for that matter).
I made copies from the book "Decorative Tile Designs Coloring Book" and laminated them so each table had a reference point for designs. Some students knew exactly what designs they wanted to do and other students really struggled, so having these reference points helped a lot. This also lead into teaching about medieval stained glass windows. We also watched a short video about Buddhist mandalas (which my 6th graders REALLY got into!)
Age: 6th graders
Time required: 4 (50 min.) class periods for construction & 3 (50 min.) class periods for painting/finishing
I created videos for each step of this project's process. These were my first instructional videos, so they are somewhat rough. I made these videos because we are limited on space and resources in the classroom. I also find that videos are much more engaging for students than a live demo. I had each class vote on whether I should do live demonstrations or videos and ALL the kids voted for the videos. It saves my voice too.
1st Step ~ Planning the Clay Tile (with Buddhist Mandalas for inspiration)
Step Two ~ Rolling a Clay Slab
Step Three ~ Making Designs in Clay Using Radial Symmetry & Addition/Subtraction
Step Four ~ Finishing the Clay Tile
Step Five ~ Painting the Islamic Tiles
One problem we ran into was that many students did not sufficiently score/slip their feet so we had a lot or some fall off (we learn from experience, right!?). This was remedied by some epoxy glue and then having students paint their tiles once the glue had dried. I also made sure to make some extra tiles before firing and it was a good thing I did. One student's tile cracked into a million tiny pieces and another student promptly dropped theirs while it was still drying. I decided to be a nice art teacher and let these students have an extra I had made.
Some students used mica flakes after they had finished glossing their tiles. This added a unique sparkly effect while avoiding craft herpes (glitter).
The Artist Statement
I also had students write a one-paragraph artist statement answering the following questions:
The statement was low pressure as I told students they were graded for content and not spelling/grammar errors. This statement was part of my assessment to check for understanding.
We finished these right before winter break. Some students were very excited to wrap their tiles up in newspaper and take them home as Christmas presents. I stole some paint sample chips from the local hardware store and hole-punched them in the corner. I told students they could use the paint samples as gift tags. They turned out so cool!
I have found it difficult to teach art history without being boring. I created this handout to be used in students' sketchbooks all semester long so we learn art history one piece at a time and not necessarily in order. The handout has small pictures of inventions to give students an idea of when time periods are happening. I also left small blank boxes at each time period for students to do a brief sketch of an example of artwork from that time period.
Go to Teachers Pay Teachers to download this art history timeline handout for FREE!
I am a 7th year high school art teacher in Rochester, MN. I have taught middle school for 2 years and high school for almost 5 years. I truly enjoy working with students on a daily basis. I also enjoy teaching real-world skills such as problem solving, using technology, and the power of teamwork and collaboration. My joy is sharing my passion for art with others!
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