Saturday, February 22, 2014

African Americans in History!


February is the shortest month of the year but filled with rich history, celebration, and fun.  Our month began with a story titled Ellington Was Not a Street by African American writer and poet Ntosake Shange.  In the story, Shange recalls childhood memories of distinguished African Americans that frequented her home on various occasions.  She remembers visits by actor Paul Roberson, jazz musicians Dizzy Gillespie and Duke Ellington, and even notable singing groups and an African dignitary.  Prior to its reading, Kindergartners discussed what we thought the title of the book meant.  We talked about word origins and how many streets were named after  famous people.  My own sister Kenda's name originated from "Kendall" street in Detroit.  (She's pretty famous-she wrote an African American cookbook that is distributed all throughout the state of Michigan.)  We also talked about several other accomplishments of African Americans and how the month was purposefully set aside to celebrate them.  We even discussed what an "LP" record (depicted on the cover of the book) was. 

Hunter's milk jug and our glass jar vases
photo from the Cammie Henry Research Center, LA
February is also a month of love and passion.  Art From Her Heart:  Folk Artist Clementine Hunter by Kathy Whitehead  told  a story of an African American  woman who pursued her own heart's passion-Art. We learned that as a child Clementine (pronounced "Clementeen") felt that she was not good at school and dropped out to work in the cotton fields.   She was the granddaughter of slaves and remained living on her childhood plantation called Melrose in Natchitoches,  LA throughout her whole life.   In later years,  Clementine had a job working inside the "big house" as a cook and housekeeper, servicing the visitors at Melrose Plantation, which is now an artist's colony.  One day she asked if she could have the leftover paints left by one of it's patrons and her art career was born.  She was over 50 years old by then.  Clementine painted on whatever she could find-lamp shades, cardboard, and even milk jugs.  She continued to paint pictures depicting  everyday life on the plantation for the rest of her life.  We read and discussed how Hunter is considered a "Primitive" artist because she, unlike Picasso and Warhol, did not have formal training in art.  She is also considered a "Memory Artist" because she painted from memory.  Her recollections of plantation life included pecan pickings,  baptisms, funerals, weddings, and everyday life occurrences like wash days.  We also learned that even though one of Hunter's benefactors was able to arrange a showing of her collection of paintings in a major museum,   Hunter was not able to attend the exhibit during museum hours due to segregation.  (She was, however, sneaked in after museum hours and marveled at her work that she originally sold for 25 cents adorning the walls in gold gilded frames.)  Further research revealed that Clementine Hunter painted just about every day from age 50+ to a few weeks before her death at age 101.   She also received two honorary doctorate degrees-one of which from the university that refused her admittance to her exhibit.  "Flat Stanley"  (see previous blog) and I had the pleasure of seeing some of Clementine Hunter's work in the Ogden Museum in New Orleans, Louisiana this past December.


Grandma Prisbrey's "Bottle House Village" in CA
 Tressa Grandma Prisbrey
On another day, Kindergartners compared Clementine Hunter's work to that of Tressa "Grandma Prisbrey."    Prisbrey was also a woman who began her art career later in life and  created  a home for herself and her family using finds from a junk yard.  Prisbrey, once homeless,  is most famous for her "bottle house village" made from recyclables like glass, tile, and souvenirs from her travels.  Although Grandma Prisbrey, like Clementine Hunter,  is considered a  "primitive" artist, her style can also be considered as "Art Brut."  Kindergartners made hilarious predictions of what "brut" meant then settled for art that is "wild"... "primitive"… and "untrained" and the artists are considered  "a little crazy."  We were so crazy about Prisbrey's work that we are in the process of creating some "art brut" mosaic tiles of our own.   Kindergartners also painted glass jar "vases" for their parents for Valentine's Day in homage to Clementine Hunter!

Mr. Guyton in front of "Dotty Wotty" House
 We brought our discussion of   recyclables and trash to create art home with our investigation of African American artist, Tyree Guyton.  We learned that young Guyton, encouraged by a loving grandfather,  loved creating art from finds throughout his neighborhood and that his passion continued to adulthood.  He is most famous for his amazingly creative and thought- provoking  "Heidelberg Project" in Detroit, MI.  Guyton aspires to beautify his neighborhood and bring awareness and attention to urban blight at the same time.  He continues to  share his gift and vision for neighborhood revitalization throughout the world!  Kindergartners were eager to express their  own experiences with the "Heidelberg Project" and shared their favorite memories.  We agreed, however,  that the "Dotty Wotty House,"  by virtue of  name alone, was definitely our  favorite!   We hope to visit the exhibit as a class sometime in the spring.

Another African American History celebration took place at our trip to the Wild Swan Theatre's production of "Under the African Sky."  Kindergartners experienced several African tales about the mischevious "Anansi the Spider"; a creation story and cautionary tale of "Why the Sun is in the Sky" and  another trickster tale involving an animal 'tug of war."  We also learned some traditional African dance movement and names of various African percussion instruments.  A big thank you to Sean and Lily's Dad for chaperoning.

Other Kindergarten Happenings!

Kindergartners continued to celebrate Valentine's Day during "Shan Science" last week.  Kindergartners talked about the importance and various functions of the parts of the human heart.  They listened to both their resting and active heart rates and compared and documented their findings.  Kindergartners also performed an experiment using water and tennis balls to demonstrate how blood is pumped out of the heart and throughout the body.  


Zoey demonstrated her leadership skills and facilitated our "Sharing Day" discussion for classmates!  Sharing Day takes place most Friday afternoons.


Happy Birthday, Spenser!


"Andy's (Warhol's) Cans" Count totals 88 canned goods!  We have almost reached   our goal of 100.  We are presently using our cans for our "Weights and Measures" Math unit.   We are reading labels and classifying by size, weight, content, and brand.  Afterward, we will donate our can collection to a local food bank.

Painting  by Lillian



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