Exploring Artifacts to Understand Ourselves

 In Michelle Green Arnson, The CAPE Blog

At Murphy Elementary, teacher Sarah Ramirez and CAPE teaching artist Gina Lee Robbins have been working with their 4th grade students to explore history, social studies, and a variety of art media in a project they’re calling, “Exploring Native and Contemporary Artifacts.”

For the past few months, students have been reading and examining artifacts to learn about different aspects of indigenous Americans’ lives, while simultaneously considering their own lives and creating a variety of instruments and art objects that represent them and their families.

Throughout the project, students have hand built terra cotta animal rattles and drum bases, which were modeled from sound-making artifacts found in Africa, the Middle East, China and North America.

The students also explored symbology by developing their own personal symbols, which were then refined through paper collage and then carved into stamps and cylinder seals. They used the seals, modeled on traditional Mesopotamian cylinder seals, to decorate a collaborative leather quilt and their drums, which were then finished with goatskin drumheads.

Each of these projects took significant time, effort, and skill and the students have welcomed the challenge every step of the way. The resulting body of work holds deep personal meaning for the students, individually and as a classroom community.

“I loved watching the students interact with their work at different stages—how they respond to the drum bases post firing, and the great reveal when the drum heads dry and they are able to create sound with them,” said CAPE Teaching Artist Gina Lee Robbins. “I also loved sharing images of historical artifacts from all over the world.  In some cases, there were students in the class whose families emigrated from the very regions we were studying!. Through this exploration of cultural history we experienced the world as both vast and very small.”

Projects like this are a key part of CAPE’s work; our teacher+teaching artist teams are incredibly skilled at helping students develop curiosity, passion, and understanding of the world around them through the thoughtful combination art making and academic study.

This project and many others from our Artist/Researcher Partnership program will be on display in May and June as part of our Convergence exhibition.

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