Lesson: Report on a Scene

  • Grades: 4–12
  • Subjects: English Language Arts, Social Studies

Students will examine a painting and use context clues discovered within the artwork to write a newspaper article revealing the scene through words. Students must use visual details to infer a time period and imagine interviewing characters portrayed in the painting.

Objectives

  • Students will use context clues to describe the setting, personality traits of individual characters, and overall mood of the scene and will imagine dialogue to develop a story.
  • Students will explain their ideas and their own interpretation and understanding of the scene in written form.
  • Students will write a three-paragraph newspaper article incorporating three imagined quotations.

Vocabulary: Reporter, headline, byline, satire (important for Blythe’s work), archive, investigate, mood

Steps

Eight people from the 1800s–men, women, and children–crowd around a Post Office door. Off to the right and left of the door, men are standing on the steps reading while young children attempt to get their attention to sell them newspapers. 
David Gilmour Blythe, Post Office, c. 1859-1863, Carnegie Museum of Art

Begin by showing students Post Office by former Pittsburgh resident David Gilmour Blythe. Take two minutes to quietly observe the artwork. Do not provide any background information while the students observe the work.

Lead a discussion with students by asking the following questions:

  • Where might these people be located? What details do you see that make you say that?
  • Notice what these people are wearing. When might this scene have taken place? What details do you see that make you say that?
  • Look at their poses and actions. What might these people be doing?
  • Describe the overall mood of this scene. What details do you see that make you say that?

Focus the discussion so that students are reading the painting closely. Ask students to focus only on the young person without shoes in the bottom-left corner. Ask students:

  • Who might this person be? What do you think they are doing and why? What details do you see that make you say that?

Now tell students they are reporters for a newspaper, such as the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, and they have been sent to cover this scene for the newspaper. Their boss is requiring that the story be three paragraphs in length and include at least three quotes from characters on the scene. An example of a quote is:

  • Mrs. Emily Fairfield of Pittsburgh stated that she was, “waiting on a letter from her husband who was fighting overseas in Belgium” in what some people are describing as a world war.

Allow their investigative and interpretation skills to guide their writing.

In addition to being three paragraphs in length and using three quotes from the scene, students’ stories should also include a headline and a date. For inspiration, students can access the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette archive.

When students are finished, invite them to share their articles. Discuss the similarities and differences between the settings, character development, moods, and dialogue that they imagined.

Extensions for this lesson:

  • Each student picks a character in the painting and writes from that character’s perspective. Who are they and why they are at the post office?
  • Assign individual characters from the story to students. What if you were a reporter interviewing this person? Create a list of questions that you would ask. Imagine their responses!

Lesson: Retell the Story

  • Grades: 7–12
  • Subjects: English Language Arts, Social Studies

In this lesson, students will be learning about and discussing the role artists played in depicting the working-class citizens (proletariat) of France during the mid-19th century. Students will write short responses based on prompts and historical information. Students will attempt to decipher whether an artist is being “sentimental” about their subject matter or whether they are portraying them “as they are.”

Objectives

  • Students will explain their own ideas and understandings in discussion and in writing.
  • Students will use context clues to make interpretations.
  • Students will write short responses based on their observations and knowledge of the historical context in which the piece may be based on.

Vocabulary: proletariat, working class, peasant, sentimental, realist painter, appropriate

Steps

Painting depicting young woman taking a break with hands resting on top end of a pitch-fork
Adolphe-William Bouguereau, Hay-Maker [Faneuse], 1869, oil on canvas, Carnegie Museum of Art, Gift of the Estate of Barbara Hoffstot Jenkins in honor of Mr. and Mrs. Henry Phipps Hoffstot and Mr. Henry Phipps Hoffstot, Jr., © Public Domain
Painting of a woman leaning against a large rock on a hillside
Jules Bastien-Lepage, A Peasant c. 1880, oil on canvas, Carnegie Museum of Art, Purchase © Public Domain
  1. Begin by having students observe the following paintings: Hay-Maker [Faneuse] (1869) by Adolphe-William Bouguereau and A Peasant (1880) by Jules Bastien-Lepage. Have your students write a short paper in which they compare the two paintings. Make sure they answer the following questions:

    • In what way are these images similar?
    • How are they different?
    • What do you see that makes you say that?

    *Students should address both form and content in their response (e.g. what each image depicts, and how they do so).

    You can have students share out some of their responses or wait until after the brief discussion of peasant life in mid-19th-century France.


  2. Now have a brief discussion of peasant life in mid-19th-century France.

    A combination of rural food shortages and the rapid growth of an unskilled urban, industrial proletariat in the early 19th century led to increasing social unrest that erupted across Europe with the Revolutions of 1848. In the wake of these political upheavals, a concern for the plight of the working classes mixed with an increasing demand for artists to depict scenes of their own time (which had begun in the 1830s) resulted in artists who began to address social concerns in their works.

    Peasant scenes became increasingly popular during the Second Empire of Napoleon III, which began in 1851, when Louis-Napoleon Bonaparte declared himself emperor of France. But as they became more widely accepted by the government, they lost the bite of social critique. Images of rural laborers became increasingly sentimentalized and nostalgic.

    Towards the end of the century, social consciousness began to re-enter peasant painting in the art of Vincent van Gogh. This can be seen in the dark, raw, and brutal images of peasant life depicted in The Potato Eaters (1885). As Van Gogh explains in a letter he wrote to his brother Theo, “I have tried to emphasize that those people, eating their potatoes in the lamplight, have dug the earth with those very hands they put in the dish, and so it speaks of manual labor, and how they have honestly earned their food.”


  3. Now start a discussion with the following questions (Make sure the paintings are still observable. This is also where students can refer to their short writing prompt):

    • Describe the similarities and differences between two artists’ approaches to the same subject. What do you see that makes you say that?
    • What details do you see in the paintings that give you clues about the setting?
    • What details do you see in the paintings that help you understand the characters?
    • How might artistic expression be influenced by cultural context and life experiences?
    • Do you think that the artist’s experiences may have shaped these two paintings? What do you see that makes you say that?

  4. Now, provide students with some basic background information about each artist and his work.

    William-Adolphe Bouguereau was born in the coastal city of La Rochelle, in southwestern France into a family of wine and olive oil merchants. Jules Bastien-Lepage was born in the small village of Damvillers, in northeastern France where his father grew grapes in a vineyard to support the family. Both artists attended École des Beaux-arts. Both artists continued to paint the remainder of their lives. However, Bastien-Lepage fought for a short time in the Franco-Prussian war where he was wounded before returning to his painting.

    The major differences between the two artists’ works were found in how they portrayed their subject matter. In his paintings, Adolphe-William Bouguereau offered a more sentimental vision of peasant life than Realist painters such as Jules Bastien-Lepage did. The Naturalist critic Louis de Fourcaud claimed that “in his observation of nature, [Bouguereau] is always the victim of his desire to improve on it.” Other criticisms of Bouguereau were that he was overly sentimental about his subject matter. While Jules Bastien-Lepage espoused a philosophy adhering to this view: “Nothing is good but truth. People ought to paint what they know and love. I come from a village in Lorraine. I mean, first of all, to paint the peasants and landscapes of my home exactly as they are.” Bastien-Lepage often used his cousin, Marie-Adèle Robert, as a model for his paintings including A Peasant (1880) and one of his most famous works, The Haymakers (1878).

    Begin a follow-up discussion:

    • Is it okay for an artist to appropriate a story and make it their own? Why or why not?
    • Which painting do you like more? Why do you like it?

  5. Now have students observe The Sower (1850) by Jean François Millet. Have them write a short paper based on the following questions:

    Painting of a person slinging seeds from a bag while striding down a hill
    Jean François Millet, The Sower, after 1850, oil on canvas, Carnegie Museum of Art, 19th Century or Earlier Painting Purchase Fund and with funds provided by Mr. and Mrs. Samuel B. Casey and Mr. and Mrs. George L. Craig, Jr. © Public Domain
    • What details do you see in the painting that gives you clues about the setting?
    • What details do you see in the painting that helps you understand the characters?
    • Do you think Millet is being sentimental about his subject matter or is he painting this peasant “as he is?” What do you see that makes you say that?
    • Do you think Millet is being sentimental about his subject matter or is he painting this peasant “as he is?” What do you see that makes you say that?

    Have students share out and perhaps debate their responses—you can divide students by those who think Millet is being “sentimental” about his subject and those who believe he is painting the peasant “as he is.” Give background information on this piece if you feel it is beneficial.

    Brief Background

    From the moment when Jean-Francois Millet’s first version of The Sower went on view in 1850, the composition has been admired and criticized as a radical work of art and a powerful political statement. Millet was among the first to depict the French peasant as a heroic archetype rather than a rustic buffoon or picturesque accessory, at a time when the French establishment feared the threat of both urban and rural popular uprisings. The painting’s artistic radicalism lies in its rejection of descriptive detail and low viewpoint, resulting in a composition of brutal simplicity.

    According to art historian Anthea Callen, “Millet intentionally transformed his human laborer into a sinewy giant of a man by elongating his proportions… Reinforced by the sower’s dominance of the pictorial space and our low viewpoint, his menacing appearance to the Parisian bourgeoisie in 1850 is thus readily explicable.”

Lesson: Outside the Frame

  • Grades: K–12
  • Subjects: English Language Arts, Social Studies

In this lesson, students will be observing and discussing visual details such as mood and action found in the artwork. Using Family, Taken Captive by the Indians, the 1849 painting by Trevor McClurg that contributes to a long, fraught history of European-American depictions and narratives of American Indian people, students will write about what is happening “outside the frame” based on interpretation and/or research.

Objectives

  • Students will explain their own ideas and understandings in discussion and in writing.
  • Students will use context clues to make interpretations.
  • Students will write what is “outside the frame” based on their observations, research, and knowledge of the historical context in which the piece may be based on.

Vocabulary: frame, colonization, captive

Steps

Painting of family gathered on hilltop with smoking ruins in the background
Trevor McClug, Family, Taken Captive by the Indians, c. 1849, oil on canvas, Carnegie Museum of Art, Museum appropriation, © Public Domain
  1. Begin by showing students a painting or photograph where they can interpret what is happening inside and outside the frame. Some examples you could use may be (Children at Festival) (1955–1957) by W. Eugene Smith or New York Scene (1964) by Richard Estes. Using Family, Taken Captive by the Indians by Trevor McClurg as an example, students will be making interpretations based on what they see in the painting and what may be happening outside the painting.

    Start the discussion by asking a few questions (*Do not tell the students the name of the piece until after the short discussion):

    • Describe the setting.
    • Where is this taking place? What do you see that makes you say that?
    • Who is the woman and the small children? Why are they the focus of the painting? What do you see that makes you say that?
    • What is going on in the background? What do you see that makes you say that?

  2. Now tell students the title of the painting—Family, Taken Captive by the Indians—and have a short discussion about that, perhaps based on students’ knowledge (or lack thereof) of North American history.

    • Talking points should include colonization in America, how Americans Indians are portrayed in American art (and the ways in which those narratives contribute to an erasure of Native history),The French and Indian War, etc. *For 6th–12th grade students you may want them to research these topics and Trevor McClurg to come up with reasons why the artist may have chosen this subject matter and how it may relate to Pittsburgh history.

    Brief Background

    McClurg was born (and lived most of his life) in Pittsburgh, PA, the eldest son of Irish immigrant foundry entrepreneur and politician Alexander McClurg (1788–1873) and his first wife Sarah Trevor (born 1839). Trevor originally studied painting at the Royal Prussian Academy of Fine Arts, he later ran a drawing school, and became a professional photographer.

    In Family, Taken Captive by the Indians, McClurg illustrated the popular nineteenth-century conception of the pioneers as heroic harbingers of civilization pitted against the hostile wilderness, personified by American Indians. McClurg portrays American Indians as either dark, shadowy presences lurking in the background as here, or, as in The Pioneer’s Defense (ca. 1855), an invisible menace beyond the cabin walls. Though the subject is American, McClurg’s treatment of it is European. His captives are painted in the hard, linear manner associated with the Dusseldorf school, and form a monumental, classical grouping.


  3. For K–5th graders, have them write about what they think is going on “outside the frame” based on their interpretations of what is going on “inside the frame” (length should be based on students’ abilities). Have some students share out their answers or do a turn and talk with the person sitting next to them.

  4. For 6th–12th graders, have them write about what they think is going on “outside the frame” based on their research (The French and Indian War, American colonialism, Trevor McClurg, etc.). Students should cite their sources whenever possible. You may want students to present their findings to the class.

Extended Lesson

Teacher provides students with a piece of paper that has the painting or photograph in the middle and students literally draw or paint what is going on “outside the frame.”

Lesson: A Day in the Life

  • Grades: K–8
  • Subjects: English Language Arts, Social Studies

In this lesson, students will be observing and discussing the visual details such as color and action found in Pittsburgh Memories (1984) by Romare Bearden. Students will then write a “day in the life” story about one of the characters in the collage.

Objectives

  • Students will explain their own ideas and understandings in discussion and in writing.
  • Students will use context clues to make interpretations.
  • Students will write a “day in the life” story based on their observations and knowledge of the historical context in which the piece was produced.

Vocabulary: collage, social worker

Steps

Collage depicting abstract city scape with figures and smoke stacks
Romare Bearden, Pittsburgh Memories 1894, collage on board, Carnegie Museum of Art, Gift of Mr. and Mrs. Ronald R. Davenport and Mr. and Mrs. Milton A. Washington, © Romare Bearden Foundation/Licensed by VAGA, New York, NY
  1. Begin by showing students Pittsburgh Memories by Romare Bearden. Based on the age and abilities of your students, you may want to explain to them that the artist is showing them both the outside and inside of the building. You may want to also give a little background on Romare Bearden and/or a pre-lesson on Pittsburgh history (especially labor history) since the piece is entitled Pittsburgh Memories.

    Brief Background

    Romare moved to Pittsburgh from New York City with his grandparents and lived here for only a few years. This is where he got his first drawing lessons from a neighbor and completed high school before eventually going off to college. He returned to New York City to attend NYU, later becoming a social worker and working artist. (Other supplemental material: The Quilt of Romare Bearden’s Life, The Nation, and from the Bearden Foundation).

    Lead a discussion with students by asking the following questions, following-up each one with “What do you see that makes you say that?”:

    • Where do you think these people are?
    • What is each individual doing?
    • This piece is entitled Pittsburgh Memories. (Based on your knowledge of Pittsburgh history…) What time period do you think this is?
    • What or who are the two heads in the top floor? What or who do they represent?

  2. Now have students focus on the man seemingly walking out the door holding something silver. Students will be writing their “day in the life” story about this character. You could get them started by asking:

    • Where do you think this person is going?
    • How old is this person?
    • What are they holding in their hand?
    • What do you think their day is going to be like?

  3. Now have students start writing their “day in the life” story. The length of their writing should be based on students’ abilities. Make sure they give this character a name. Ask them to give as much details as possible based on what they see in the collage and their knowledge of Pittsburgh labor history. When students finish have them share out their answers.

Lesson: Art and Authors

  • Grades: K–8
  • Subjects: English Language Arts

Students will interpret and discuss mood, body language, etc. of a piece/portrait based on their observations. Students will then discuss how authors create characters similar to artists. Teachers will then pick a character from a book the class is reading and have students do a compare and contrast of the person in the painting they are observing and the character in their book/story they are/have read in the form of a graphic organizer, such as a Venn diagram.

Objectives

  • Students will explain their own ideas and understanding in discussion and in writing.
  • Students will make inferences about mood, body language, etc., based on their observations.
  • Students will compare and contrast a character in a painting with a character in a book/story they are reading or have read.

Vocabulary: non-verbal communication, portrait

Steps

Painting of a bearded man with hands folded and resting on his knee
Paul Cézanne, Self-Portrait, c. 1885, oil on canvas, Carnegie Museum of Art, Acquired through the generosity of the Sarah Mellon Scaife Family © Public Domain
  1. Begin by asking students, “How do you know what your parents are thinking without them saying it (nonverbal communication: use of visual cues such as body language, touch, etc.)?” Have them give specific details. If there is time, have students give examples of non-verbal communication and have the rest of the class interpret what their mood is: mad, happy, excited, etc.

    Find a painting with a person present—preferably a piece/portrait where one could do interpretations of mood, body language, etc. Generally, paintings where the artist knows the sitter are considered portraits, otherwise one would refer to the person(s) as figure(s) or character(s). Some examples include A Munich Boy (ca. 1873–77) by Joseph Frank Currier, Henry Rushbury (1927) by Gerald L. Brockhurst, or Self-Portrait (ca. 1885) by Paul Cezanne.

    Have a short discussion which could include:

    • Describe this person/character’s physical appearance.
    • How old do you think they are? What do you see that makes you say that?
    • Are they from the past or present? What do you see that makes you say that?

    The teacher can generate a list of answers.


  2. Discuss the subsequent questions, following up with “What do you see that makes you say that?” after each one:

    • What is this person(s) mood?
    • What is he/she/they thinking about?
    • What is the setting?

  3. Artists create characters by providing details; this is similar to the way an author creates characters in text. Refer to a text students are currently reading in their class. Discuss how authors create characters: setting, conflict, plot, mood, tone, etc.

    Hand out a Venn diagram with the name of a character in a current book you are reading or have read recently in class and the name of the next portrait students will be observing. Have them find similarities and differences in each. Perhaps include vocabulary words like mood, tone, theme, etc. Have students share out their answers.

Lesson: Things People Wear

  • Grades: K–5
  • Subjects: English Language Arts, Social Studies

Students will observe and discuss multiple photographs and/or paintings and identify what people are wearing and in what medium the people’s images were captured. Students will use adjectives to describe what they see and will compare some of these images to their own lives.

Objectives:

  • Students will explain their own ideas and understanding in discussion and in writing.
  • Students will be able to identify an art medium and use adjectives.

Vocabulary: medium, material, photograph, adjective

Steps

Photo of two people on a bed looking over various unwrapped gifts
Charles “Teenie” Harris, Man, and woman, possibly Margaret Bullard holding radio, seated on bed in bedroom, possibly in Bullard home at 2801 Bedford Avenue 1956, black-and-white: Kodak safety film, Carnegie Museum of Art, Heinz Family Fund © Carnegie Museum of Art, Charles “Teenie” Harris Archive
  1. Find a painting or photograph with multiple people. E.g. Children in Leningrad (1958) by Duane Michals, a Charles “Teenie” Harris photo from his 2801 Bedford Avenue series, Portrait of a Boy (1890) by John Singer Sargent, or Hutchinson, Kansas (1976) by Garry Winogrand. Begin by asking students to name some of the clothing they are wearing. Introduce new vocabulary or point out uses of adjectives as appropriate. You could also have students fill out something similar to the later activity: My favorite thing(s) to wear is/are my [adjective] [clothing]. Now refer to the painting or photograph and ask students to describe the clothes that the people are wearing. Next ask, “What do you think their relationship is? What do you see that makes you say that?” Point to the clothing in the image as students respond. Ask students follow-up questions such as:

    • Do you like his/her/their [clothing item]? What do you like about it? Why?
    • Do you wear [clothing item]? Why or why not?
    • Do people today wear [clothing item]? Why or why not?

  2. Next, introduce the art vocabulary word medium. Medium can refer to both to the type of art (e.g. painting, sculpture, printmaking, drawing) as well as the materials an artwork is made from (e.g. pencil, ink, pastels, painting, watercolor, acrylic, oil, film, mixed media, collage). Material can also refer to the clothes that folks are wearing in the piece being observed.

    As a handout, have students complete the following to identify clothing worn by each of the figures in the works of art:

    He/she/they are wearing a(n) [adjective][clothing item] in the [medium].

    *Have multiples of these prompts on the handout. Students can circle “He/she/they” as it corresponds to the piece. You could also leave space for students to draw each character if desired or have the piece you are analyzing photocopied onto the page.

    Ask volunteers to share some of their responses from the handout you created. Discuss how the clothing styles depicted in the different images have changed over time (e.g. the clothing in the painting is from an earlier time period than the clothing in the photograph).

Lesson: Descriptive Writing with Still Life

  • Grades: 6–12
  • Subjects: English Language Arts

Students will learn what a still-life painting is. They will observe and discuss two still lifes and then write a three-paragraph descriptive essay based on their observations. Students will then draw a still life based on their classmates’ descriptive essays. They will then discuss the similarities and differences between their writings, drawings, and the original paintings.

Objectives

  • Students will write a three-paragraph descriptive essay.
  • Students will create a drawing based on classmates’ essays.
  • Students will compare and contrast their own ideas and understandings with those of the artists in discussion and in writing.

Vocabulary: still life, medium, composition

Steps

Still life painting with pitcher, bowls of strawberries, and plate of cheese
Levi W. Prentice, Still Life with Strawberries, c. 1890, oil on canvas, Carnegie Museum of Art, Purchase: Mary Oliver Robinson Fund, bequest to Women’s Committee of the Museum of Art, and Women’s Committee Acquisition Fund © Public Domain

Discuss with the class what a still-life painting is. (The subject matter of a still-life painting or sculpture is anything that does not move or is dead.) Give them an example of one to look at. Once the students have a good understanding of what a still life is or can be, divide the class into two groups. Give each group a different painting of still life to observe. For example, Still Life with Brioche (1880) by Edward Manet or Still Life with Strawberries (ca. 1890) by Levi W. Prentice. Make sure that each group of students doesn’t see the other group’s painting.

  1. Have each group create a graphic organizer such as a circle, idea map, or word bank about the still life they were given. Tell them to list everything they see in the still life. For English language learners, you may wish to provide a word bank already containing words that may describe the still life, or you might display real objects that are visible in the still life.

    Have each student write a three-paragraph essay that describes the still life in detail. The essay should provide enough information for someone to draw the still life based solely on the written description.

    The essay should include the following parts:

    • 1st paragraph: Students write an introduction that explains what the artwork depicts, the orientation of the composition (landscape or portrait), and its medium. (Medium can refer both to the type of art—such as painting, sculpture, printmaking, drawing—as well as the materials an artwork is made from, such as pencil, ink, pastels, painting, watercolor, acrylic, oil, film, mixed media, collage.)
    • 2nd paragraph: Students create a detailed inventory of what is included in the composition, using adjectives to identify and describe the objects in the still life.
    • 3rd paragraph: Students describe key details (e.g., colors in foreground and background, details about positive and negative space, size and placement of the objects in relation to each other).

    After students complete their first drafts, have them proofread their essays and revise them as needed.


  2. Tell each student to trade essays with a classmate in the other group. Then pass out white construction paper and drawing pencils. Have each student draw what is described in his or her classmate’s essay. Give them the following instructions:

    • Read the essay thoroughly.
    • Begin sketching out the composition with pencil.
    • Add color to the drawing using pastels, crayons, colored pencils, etc.

  3. Compare and contrast students’ drawings with the works of art created by the original artists. Lead a discussion asking the following questions:

    • How are the works of art similar? What do you see that makes you say that?
    • How are they different? What do you see that makes you say that?
    • What could you have written to help your classmate make a more accurate drawing?
    • What could your classmate have written to help you make a more accurate drawing?

    Have students revise their essays based on the class discussion and what is inaccurate in the drawings. Students then complete their final drafts.

Lesson: Chairs in Space Design

  • Grades: 6–12
  • Subjects: English Language Arts, Mathematics, Science, Social Studies

Students will observe and discuss a variety of chairs and determine whether they are aesthetically pleasing, supportive, how they were constructed, etc. They will then design their own chair that can withstand space travel and being on the planet Mars. Students will do research to determine the best design.

Objectives

  • Students will use context clues to make interpretations.
  • Students will explain their own ideas and understanding in discussion and in writing.
  • Students will research life in space and Mars.
  • Students will design a chair prototype.
  • Students will cite sources to back up their design rationale.

Vocabulary: aesthetic, texture, prototype, modernist/modernism

Steps

Contemporary wooden chair designed with a zig-zag shape
Gerrit Thomas Rietveld, Zig-Zag chair, c. 1938, deal and hardwood, Carnegie Museum of Art, Gift of Mary Jo and James Winokur, © Licensed by Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York/Beeldrecht, Amsterdam
  1. Show students Gerrit Thomas Rietveld’s Zig-Zag chair and ask them the subsequent questions, following up with “What do you see that makes you say that?” after each one:

    • What materials do you think were used to make this chair?
    • Does this chair look like it would support a person’s body? Why or why not?
    • Who do you think is the intended user for this chair?
    • In what ways is the chair aesthetically appealing to you? Explain.
    • How do you think the chair was constructed?

    Brief Background

    The Zig-Zag chair was designed in 1934 by the architect and furniture designer Gerrit Rietveld. This particular one was made in 1938. In the early 1930s, Dutch department store Metz & Co. asked Gerrit Rietveld to do something unprecedented: design a chair for mass production. The architect agreed to the challenge, proposing a Z-shaped perch. Its deceptively simple Z-form arose from his desire to create a chair from a single piece of material. When this proved impossible in various materials—metal was difficult to sit on and plywood fell apart—he resorted to durable cherrywood. It worked! The chair was surprisingly sturdy, braced by dovetail joints and an unorthodox method of bolting together planks of hardwood to give the impression of a continuous form.

    Despite its jagged angles it is comfortable. There is give between the seat and legs; it softens when you sit. This was far from traditional furniture construction. The drill-holes and grain of the wood provide the only decoration to this chair, whose silhouette typified the uncompromising nature of Modernist furniture of the interwar period. The chair was, in the words of Gerrit Rietveld, “a designer joke.”


  2. Now show students some of these chairs:


  3. Discuss the subsequent questions, following up with “What do you see that makes you say that?” after each one:

    • Which chair do you find most aesthetically pleasing? Why?
    • Which chair do you think is the most comfortable?
    • Which chair do you think is the most supportive?
    • What do you think the texture of each chair is like?
    • Do you think the chair is heavy or light?
    • How did the designer plan for the user’s body to interact with each chair?
    • What purpose do you think the chair was designed for?

  4. Now instruct students to design a prototype chair for astronauts traveling to Mars. The furniture will serve many functions in environments where maximum flexibility and minimum fuss is crucial.

    Things to consider:

    • You’re going to have very limited space.
    • There will be partial gravity—Mars has roughly one-third of Earth’s gravity—so you can make your furniture a lot lighter and weaker than Earth-bound designs.
    • Astronauts come in many sizes, think adjustable.
    • The chair will be used for working, relaxing, and mealtimes, so it should be comfortable.

  5. Have students create a “furniture journal” where they keep notes about every chair they interact with for the following week. Ask students to think about why they feel the design is good or bad (is it aesthetically pleasing, comfortable, supportive, heavy, light, etc.?) and how aspects of each chair may benefit their design.

    At the end of the week, students will write-up and draw their proposals. Their write-ups should include and address, at the very least, the “things to consider” and how their journals and further research led them to their final design (citing sources where available). Each student should present their findings and design to the class.

Lesson: Comparing Portraits

  • Grades: K–12
  • Subjects: English Language Arts

Students will compare two portraits and write dialogue based on their observations. They will share their writing and then discuss similarities and differences between the two works. Students will then write a mock commission letter to one of the artists requesting a portrait done of them.

Objectives

  • Students will use context clues to create dialogue and make interpretations such as mood, tone, etc.
  • Students will explain their own ideas and understanding in discussion and in writing.
  • Students will write a commission letter.

Vocabulary: portrait, commission letter, body language

Steps

 

  1. Find two portraits of men or two portraits of women in the museum’s collection, preferably of different styles or eras. (Generally, paintings where the artist knows the sitter are considered portraits, otherwise one would refer to someone in the painting as a figure or character.) Have students choose or assign one of the two portraits and write a paragraph of dialogue in the voice of the person in the painting.

    Prompt students by asking them to think about:

    • What might the person in the painting say if you could speak to them? What do you see that makes you say that?
    • Consider how facial expression and body language communicates something about the sitter.
    • Ask them to use only details that they can see in the paintings as they write their paragraph, details that might tell them more about what the person in the painting may be feeling or thinking.

  2. Once students have written their paragraphs, ask a few students to present what they wrote (choose students who wrote about each of the two portraits). Discuss as a class how each student interpreted the person in these two portraits. Ask students to compare the personality of the two people based on the student interpretations.

    Compare the portraits as a class using the following questions, asking the follow-up “What do you see that makes you say that?” after each one:

    • What do you see that is similar in these two paintings?
    • What do you notice that is different?
    • What differences do you notice about the way each figure is painted? (E.g. one is smooth, and the lines are crisp and defined, while the other one has a rougher and more scraped surface.)

Extended Lesson

Recommended for grades 4–12

Ask students which of the two painters—use their names when applicable—they would choose to paint their portrait. Have each student write a commission letter to the artist of their choice, requesting a portrait. When selecting an artist, students should consider the painting style of the artist, and the kind of personality they wish to project to viewers of their portrait. Each letter needs to clearly describe the following:

  • The setting of the portrait
  • What the student wants to wear
  • How the student will stand or sit
  • What gestures the student might make
  • Why the student chose that artist
  • How the artist’s style fits with what the student wants in his or her portrait
  • How the student’s body language will communicate something about him or her
  • Any props that might tell a viewer more about him or her

The formal commission letter should contain at least two paragraphs, along with an imagined address for the artist and proper salutations. Once students have finished their writing, have them share their letters with the class.

Lesson: Relating to the Urban Environment

  • Grades: K–6
  • Subjects: English Language Arts

Students will examine a photograph of an urban scene and discuss the visual details, action found within, and where the photo was taken. Students will then write a “sense poem” based on their observations.

Objectives

  • Students will use context clues to answer questions and create a “sense poem.”
  • Students will explain their own ideas and understanding in discussion and in writing.
  • Students will describe setting based on context clues.

Vocabulary: urban, poem, photograph, setting, scenery

Steps

 

  1. Project or handout a copy of Garry Winogrand’s photograph entitled Santa Monica, California 1978. Teachers may also choose to examine Joel Meyerowitz’s photograph Untitled (Point Park Acrobats) 1984 if they wanted to examine an image from Pittsburgh. Start a discussion by using the following questions, following-up each one with “What do you see that makes you say that?”:
    • What do you see going on in this picture?
    • What is the interaction of the people in the photograph? What are they doing?
    • What words would you use to describe this place? Why?
    • Where do you think this photograph was taken?
    • Is this similar or different from the city or town that you know? In what way?
    • Have you ever visited California (Point Park in Pittsburgh)? If so, compare what you experienced there to what you see in the photograph.

    When writers create setting, they provide descriptions that give us detail such as scenery, weather, clothing, etc. Looking at this image:

    • What time of year (season) do you think this photograph was taken?
    • What year do you think this photograph was taken?

  2. Now have students examine the photograph and think about what they would see, smell, hear, taste, and feel if they were there. Ask them to think of simple phrases to fill in the blanks of the poem.

    In the city/photograph…

    • I see….
    • I smell….
    • I hear….
    • I taste….
    • I touch/feel….

    *Students may also pick one person in the photo, and then write from their point of view.


  3. When students are finished, have a few students read their poems aloud. You could have students snap their fingers after each reading instead of clapping like the beatniks did at poetry readings in the 1950s.

Extended Lesson

  • Students write about an experience they have had in the city or a “day in the life” story.
  • Students create their own urban scene by making a collage using newspapers and magazines. Have them look for images that reflect their own personal experiences of the city.