HighSchool Art Room: instruction and providing choice to students

Chagall Peace Windows

Chagall Peace Windowns header
Chagall Peace Window LOVE IMG_1380  IMG_1383 IMG_1382

This is a favorite 4th/5th grade lesson of mine that I’ve started the school year with for several years. I think you could definitely put this in a 3rd-6th grade range.  The great thing about it is that it aligns with our schools’, “Week of Respect” and becomes a longer term school art installation.

check out this link to a Dick Blick lesson plan where I originally saw this idea and adapted it from there.

First, let me explain that, “Week of Respect” happens in our school district within the first month of school.  The specialists are not required to participate in lesson planning on this topic the way that our classroom teachers are, but I always like to participate in these kind of  district goals as  it is another way to advocate for the visual arts program.  It is tough, however, because we also have “Back to School Night” just before and I want to have something for both.  I know you all feel my pain on that- hence, Peace Windows are born!
After their creation, I hang these “windows” in the Cafeteria/MPR  or in the Hallway courtyard windows to be displayed for many months.  It adds nice color for our visiting parents on BTSN.  Read more below for background information on the artist and project.
What will I need for this project?
  • -transparency sheets or “Clear Lay” (I’ve ordered clear lay from the art supply catalogs in the past
  • pencils

  • drawing paper ( I use the cheap 9x12 manilla paper for the rough draft)
  • black sharpie markers
  • paints  (acrylic do adhere better to the transparency sheets than tempera. You don’t need more than a basic range of colors for these to come out great!)

A Little Background on Chagall...

Marc Chagall (b. 1887 d. 1985)was an extremely prolific Russo-Jewish artist, who produced some 10,000 works in his 98 years of life. He is known to have said, “A day without painting is not a real day for me.”.   That’s a guy I can get behind!
During World War II, Chagall fled Europe for the United States, eventually settling in France.  After the war, Chagall traveled extensively, mostly for large commissions of his work, this one included.  He made the subject of this lesson, a stained glass window, for the United Nations Building in New York, NY.
In 1964, Marc Chagall gave the UN a stained glass window he created entitled “Peace” to honor the Secretary-General Dag Hammarskjøld and 15 others who died in a plane crash on September 17, 1961 while on their way to broker a cease-fire in the Congo. Hammarskjøld was posthumously awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for his humanitarian efforts. The 11.7 x 17.7 foot window can be seen in the Visitors Lobby of the UN Building in New York. (source: http://artsnap.org/chagall-peace-window/)

Now, if you are interested in sharing with your students, the piece has many biblical references within it. Chagall identified as a Jewish artist and much of his work contains religious references.  That is about all I usually share with my students, but if you want more background on it,  he was inspired by Isiah IX, 1-6.  You can find a nice list of the exact passages here: http://worldpatrimony.org/peacewindow/window.html 
First Phase Digital
When I talk with students about the window, I pick out certain imagery with them and get them talking about how or why it is a peaceful visual.   It’s easy for example, to address the whole and talk about the overall color scheme of blue and white creating a mood of calm and peace. (Think clouds floating by on a Summer day...ahhhhhh)  You could also point out specifics, like these noted by the UN website themselves:
The memorial, which is about 15 feet wide and 12 feet high, contains several symbols of peace and love, such as the young child in the center being kissed by an angelic face which emerges from a mass of flowers. On the left, below and above, motherhood and the people who are struggling for peace are depicted.
If you’re feeling ambitious and have easy access to digital imagery, computer hooked up to laptop, why not share more of Chagall’s artworks to notice repeating visual themes in his work?  He also painted a number of other beautiful windows, which you could compare to.

Chagall was equally inspired by music for this piece, which I think is an awesome thing to share with students during the project.  Play a little of Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony while you working and share with students that this is the piece of music Chagall drew mood from.  My students actually work very well with classical music.  I’ve found that it really creates a serene atmosphere and they enjoy knowing what kind of outside sources inspired the artist they’re studying.

Even though I’ve put a lot of information up here for you on Chagall and the Peace Window, I wouldn’t spend that much time discussing it on the first day.  As this project takes more than one class, there’s more opportunity to discuss, say color as mood, on the second work day when you will begin painting.
I only have a 40 minute class once a week with the students so time management is of the utmost importance! After viewing and discussing the window, take a couple of minutes (and I do mean 2 minutes only!) to “turn and talk”.  Ask students to turn and talk to a neighbor about other visuals that make them think of peace or calm?  After their wonderful little brains are turned back on, come together as a class to ask: What are some  images that mean peace to you? I will write these on a piece of chart paper or on the whiteboard as prompts for the next piece- the drawing plan!
Cats and Dogs get along in this vision of peace

So now, students are taking these ideas and they’re going to make their own composition for a Peace Window.  

Another thing I really like about this lesson is that it modifies for various levels of ability so easily.  Students will now use their drawing paper to draw their own peace image- whatever that means to them.  Refer back to the prompts you just collected on the board.  Just a note, make sure the size of the drawing paper you use for this step matches the transparency size students will put their final copy on. I let students know that they should choose one main image as the focus of their work (a good time to mention emphasis here!) and remind them they’ll be painting inside this picture so big and clear is the way to go.

As an example of a modification, I have had students do something as simple as tracing their hand(s) to create a hand flashing peace sign or hands coming together in friendship while other students develop detailed compositions from their imaginations with angels or cats and dogs coming together to finally overcome their years of cartoon animosity! It’s a nice guided yet open-ended project and the results really are fabulous.  You’ll see all that talking and brainstorming really pay off in the variety of ideas the students draw.

This is generally the end of day 1 for me, but sometimes you’ve got that speedy class that is ready to begin the next step, which would be...pass out those transparency or clear lay sheets and have students place the plastic over their drawing and simply trace their drawing lines in sharpie.  Yes, you occasionally get the student who freaks out that their plastic moved, so be prepared to re-align and reassure. If you have someone who traces “a mistake” and is downright distraught, try a little bit of hand sanitizer on a tissue or q-tip to wipe it off as the alcohol content will erase the marker. This is also the step where students must write their name and class in a corner of the artwork.

Next, flip over your transparency and get ready to paint.  Use acrylic paints, even a few small canisters of "craft" acrylic paint would work fine, tempera paints are too watery and flake off after drying. 

I like to do a short demo on this at the start of class so the students know what to expect out of the process.  Tip: Put a white sheet of paper under the transparency to make it easier to see what you are doing. We just call it a placemat.
I know you could do this with colored permanent markers and if you are limited in your supplies for some reason that would be a good adaptation. I like the way the acrylic paint works for this.  You don’t need a lot of paint, just a thin layer on the plastic, so you can stretch just a touch pretty far. And again, as noted in the materials list, just a basic set of colors will do.

Before you let anyone paint, make them all check- is your name backwards?  

Repeat it many, many times, haha. What makes this work so well is that the sharpie lines are on one side of the plastic while the paint is on the opposite. Emphasize that you want just a thin layer of paint so that the light can come through the color. When students finish painting they have to put it in the drying rack (keeping it on the placemat) and wait to see the final results.  It’s hard to get them to wait, phew.  But once they’re dry, they make beautiful window pieces.

*Note that the photos I have up here in this article show the pieces mounted on construction paper backing for display in our art show (which happens at night!).

Thanks for reading ! 

profile pic (1)