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Art literacy a unique addition the Nativity curriculum

by Mrs. Lauren Garcia, Nativity’s Seventh-grade Art Teacher

For the past three years, since 2010, our seventh-grade students have benefited a great deal from their study of art literacy with two generous volunteers from the local community who have a passion for the arts, Mrs. Jeanne Culkin and Mrs. Francesca Brunner. Both of them bring a wealth of knowledge about art history and a keen sense of what students should know to help establish their ‘literacy’ in the visual arts.

Community Volunteers Francesca Brunner and Jeanne Culkin (l. to r.) with Nativity seventh grader Alondra G. displaying her Gaughin replica in pastel.

Community Volunteers Francesca Brunner and Jeanne Culkin (l. to r.) with Nativity seventh grader Alondra G. displaying her Gaughin replica in pastel.

Jeanne and Francesca teach the students once a month and focus on a specific artist for each class. They bring excitement to the classroom by introducing different artists and their art styles. More recently, the seventh graders learned about the famed French Post-Impressionist artist Paul Gaughin.

The students were able to experiment with watercolor pastels to create a colorful replica of some of Gauguin’s famous landscapes.

“My favorite project so far this year has been this one (Gaughin)…because I love drawing and using the pastels that turn into paint,” commented Jenny L., a Nativity seventh grader.

For each class, Jeanne and Francesca present a set of slides using Power Point, featuring a different artist each month. And then they engage the students in a question-and-answer discussion focusing on everything from the artists’ techniques to the time period and historical context for the artists and their works.

“I enjoy the Power Point presentations because they show the different techniques of the artist and it is interesting to know how they became famous,” says Alondra G., another seventh grader.

Each class begins with a formal discussion and lesson and always ends with an activity during which students have an opportunity to re-create a featured work from the artist for that day.

Mrs. Lauren Garcia, Nativity’s art instructor for seventh grade, believes the combination of discussion about history and background of the artist and the hands-on activities are a highly effective approach to teaching art literacy to students.

The process of replicating a work by the artist “allows the students to travel back in time as if they were the artist, creating their own masterpieces,” Garcia says.

The artists presented as part of this special supplementary curriculum have included the ‘greats,’ like Picasso, Matisse, Renoir, and Gaughin. And they have also included some of the greats closer to home as well, like the legendary American folk artist Grandma Moses.

Garcia knows the benefits that the students will take with them for the rest of their lives. “As their 7th grade art teacher, I take pleasure in having Jeanne and Francesca in the classroom. The students and I enjoy having them in the class to further our knowledge in art literacy. They contribute so much to our art class and we are blessed to be able to have this partnership,” she says.

We are very grateful for the commitment of time and energy that Francesca and Jeanne have made with our students these past three years. And we hope they will be with for many years to come.

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