Last October, we studied the Folk Art of Mexico. Los Dias de los Muertos (The Days of the Dead) is traditionally celebrated on Nov. 1st (All Saints Day) and 2nd (All Soul's Day) in Mexico. Family and friends gather to pray for and remember their lost loved ones. Private alters (ofrendas) are built to honor the deceased using items like pictures of their loved ones, candles, marigolds, the favorite foods and beverages of the departed, and most popular, sugar skulls.
Leading up to the Day of the Dead, students at all levels learned about the folk art associated with this holiday and other types of Mexican folk art, as well. When the art projects were completed, we made a beautiful art display in the main hallway of our school.
Kindergarten contributed decorated cones filled with tissue paper flowers to hang on the walls and brightly colored lanterns to line the hall.
1st grade painted brightly vivid Zapotec Rainbow Blankets to hang from the ceiling. They were a cooperative learning project, for which each student was responsible for creating rhea knots along the edges of the blanket for the fringe, and a specific color of stripe in the blanket. They created a pattern with their colors, waiting to take their turns, encouraging each other and problem solving along the way.
2nd grade painted this gorgeous flower mural; each class contributing a different layer to it in another cooperative learning effort. One class made the initial drawings of the flowers in oil pastel, another painted them in with tempera, another added more details with oil pastels, such as insects, butterflies and veins in the leaves, and the last class added more paint. This project was found on the Painted Paper blog. It was a wonderful success and added so much to our display.
3rd grade learned about the art of Mexican folk art of metal tooling. Embossing designs like suns, maracas, parrots, flowers, birds and lizards on the surface of the metal, the students then colored them in with brightly colored permanent markers. I found this project on the Kinder Art website. Each classes' projects were made into long connected hangings with beads on the top and bottom. These were one of the favorite parts of our display!
4th grade watched a video on Dias de los Muertos, which highlighted the making of sugar skulls and the bright, ornate decorations that adorn them. Oil pastel "portraits" of sugar skulls were drawn and decorated with flowers and fun patterned backgrounds to add to their whimsy. In Mexico, during Dias de los Muertos, there is a spirit of poking fun at the dead and honoring their lives with laughter and joy. Our sugar skulls definitely put a smile on all our faces!
Finally, 5th grade learned about the skeleton, making these wonderful reliefs out of art straws called "Funny Bones". Skeletons (calaveras) are seen everywhere in Mexico during this time of year, dressed in all kinds of costumes or clothing; it is tradition to dress the calaveras up just as the departed loved ones they are honoring dressed. We thought about someone we might want to honor and how they would have dressed. One student made a military uniform in honor of her deceased grandfather, another made a flower printed dress in memory of her grandmother. Most made clothing that represented their own ideas of how they wanted their skeleton to look; like a skateboarder or a rock star. They embellished their art with yarn for hair, sequins and buttons on the clothes, and even beads for the skateboard wheels. Skeletons were shown in motion; dancing, skateboarding, rocking out. We discussed how the parts of our body would realistically move into different positions.
This unit was a wonderful way to tie in social studies and health science to our curriculum and brought so much cultural and community pride to our school. We looked at the areas of Mexico we were studying on our world map, often making personal connections to the places and people who lived there. We discussed the traditions and beliefs of our neighbors to the southwest of us, and learned about the art history and processes used to create the art in another country. We found similarities and differences in all of these areas as we immersed ourselves in the rich art and historical traditions of Mexico. Most of all, we discovered a real spirit of cooperation and team work in the art room. This is what community is all about!