Great American Artists for Kids: Hands-On Art Experiences in the Styles of Great American Masters works as a stand-alone book, but it’s also a great resource for use alongside your study of the history of the United States from the Colonial Period to the present.
The authors selected 75 artists for this book with an eye for artists whose styles and techniques, as well as their artwork and personal history, would be most appealing to children. Artists are grouped into four time periods, but you need not use them in order. The “Chart of Contents” lists the artists in order, but it also charts out the type of art activity that will be used, the art style, the technique used, child-experience level, and adult planning and preparation time required. This makes it easy to find appropriate activities without sorting through all 144 pages.
Each artist has one or two pages that include a brief biography of the artist and his work along with detailed instructions for a project that reflects something of the artist’s technique or style. There are often full-color images of one of the artist’s works and/or student projects. If there is no image of the artist’s work, there is generally a weblink to one or more works that can be viewed online.
Projects vary greatly in the resources used, techniques, and level of parental assistance required. While specific instructions are included, students are given lots of leeway as to how they will create their own project. Activities are meant for exploration and experience rather than reproduction of one specific result.
The child-experience level is marked with one, two, or three stars to show whether an activity is appropriate for a beginning student, a student with some experience, or for a more experienced student. Even some of the two- and three-star level activities include a sidebar with a suggestion for a very simple way for a young child to participate. This really helps include the whole family as much as possible.
I’ll give just a few examples from the book, but keep in mind these are only representative of the enormous variety. Other projects include drawing, sculpting, cutting, sewing, construction, printing, and painting with many variations.
One lesson features Edward Hicks, the painter of Peaceable Kingdom of the Branch. This is only one of his numerous paintings featuring wild animals and children interacting peacefully in an idyllic setting. An image of the painting is included. Children will create a “Peaceable Collage” using wildlife photos from magazines, heavy paper or poster board, and glue. They can add other collage materials as they wish. Three student works are shown as examples. This project is for beginning students and requires what the authors consider minimal prep and planning time.
Louis Comfort Tiffany, famous for his stained glass work, is a different sort of artist featured in the book. Students tackle a moderately difficult project to create their own “Bright Light Window Display.” Using a sheet of clear acrylic plastic, they will mix white glue with paints to create their artwork. This project has to be done in stages. While older children tackle this project, young children might create a simpler “stained glass” project using scraps of colored tissue paper and glue.
One three-star level project is based upon Walt Disney’s design of Disneyland. Students will construct a model playground using salt-and-flour dough (recipe included) plus all sorts of odds and ends such as paper, plastic, sticks, string, bottle caps, and wood scraps. They can finish it off with tempera paints, glitter or whatever they please. You can imagine how much time this might take to complete!
Most of the projects will take some time to set up and complete, even when they indicate that only minimal prep and time is required. If you already have lots of art and “creativity” supplies on hand, that will certainly save time, but most homeschoolers will need a bit of time to prepare for even some of the easy activities. Even so, I love the variety of media and techniques introduced in this book. I also love the tie-in to American history since projects reflect the multiplicity of historical, cultural, and artistic influences in our country’s history.