KINGSBURG – Despite the chatter, there was peace in Rachelle Patterson’s fourth-grade class at Reagan Elementary May 22.
Students ripped and glued paper and painted animals on large cardboard cutouts in teams. Amid the noise and hectic activity though, were cooperation, teamwork, sharing and patience. It was the lesson that both Patterson and her father-in-law guest teaching that day hoped the students would learn.
Fourth graders learn about Native Americans as part of their social studies and history standards, Patterson said. Their lessons have been primarily focused on tribes in California.
Her father-in-law is art teacher and respected artist Marc Patterson. This is his second year of hosting a massive art lesson based on their studies.
“This art project is focused on the Iroquois on the East Coast,” Rachelle Patterson said. “It’s the same idea of using symbolism and similes about peace to teach them what’s guiding their art.”
Marc Patterson is a printmaker and collage artist who graduated from Selma High in 1971. He taught at his alma mater in the late 1990s and now teaches at Fresno’s McLane High. He’s earned the Horizon Award by the Fresno Arts Council and developed the ArtVenture Art Academy where his students explore socially relevant topics through art. They’ve tackled homelessness and the Hmong culture. Pieces of his student’s work have been displayed at the White House. In February, a showcase of his students’ work dating back to 2004 was featured in a Fresno ArtHop.
On this day, the fourth graders were learning an art lesson based on the Iroquois’ Great Law of Peace. It was part history, civics, art and project management lesson all in one.
Earlier, the students wrote their own brief descriptions of peace on small cards along with a symbol to illustrate their ideas.
They would now paint an eight-foot tall pine tree representative of the Iroquois’ unity, complete with symbolic animals and roots. Their simile cards would be added to that and the finished tree would then be displayed outside their class room.
McLane High students had pre-cut silhouettes of the animals out of thick cardboard and sketched some of each animal’s features to aid the younger students. Patterson shared some painting techniques to help the young artists get started.
“I’m going to teach you how to blend and also create texture.” Holding a printout of large tree, Patterson pointed out how the green was numerous shades, not just one, depending on the light and how the outline of hundreds of leaves was visible.
“There like five or six shades of green in that tree. Likewise, your animal will not be one color. What kind of texture are we looking for? It’s like the hair or feathers of the animal.”
Students went to work squeezing paint onto cardboard plates that served as their palettes and then dabbed or smoothed paint with sponges and brushes to create an eel, bear, heron, beaver and other animals that represented tribes taking part in the original Iroquois peace treaty.
To create a three-dimensional effect, other students tore up paper bags, scrunched them up and glued contrasting shades of brown scrap paper to make roots for the tree.
“I’ve done a lot of research on this project since I’ve done this with my [high school] students. They’ll also learn a little color theory, craftsmanship and how to handle to media. Like this student, he’s starting to blend really nice,” Patterson said stopping to compliment one student’s painting.
“It’s okay to leave some of this unblended, so it looks like texture. You don’t have to make it all look like one, flat color.”
The fourth-graders said while they may paint and draw at home, they haven’t created a group project this elaborate before.
Student Gino Garcia was dabbing white paint with black to create a feathery effect on a heron cutout.
“Peace is something I think about. Whenever I have a pencil in my hand and I’m drawing, that makes me feel peaceful. I like to draw something creative or something new. I’ll create people and I’ve drawn a bird before.”
Garcia agrees that the hands-on project was an innovative way to learn the lesson, rather than simply reading about it.
“I’m doing something I love. This lesson teaches me about the things around me and what we have to take care of.”
Nathaniel Bahne and Ava Flores worked together to paint a bear that represented another of the tribes in the peace treaty. Bahne said he not only liked that they were painting, but also how they worked in teams “to make something look as realistic as it can. It gives us experience to see if we could do this.”
Bahne said the day’s project was also an example of peace in action.
“Peace means to me being nice, working together and having fun. No one’s fighting, or being violent and everyone’s friends. Painting the bear makes me think of how it’s majestic.”
Parent Melissa Troxell was among volunteers helping that day. She watched as her daughter Luciana Troxell worked with Aram Serrano to paint an eagle. She appreciated that the students were learning about a culture that was likely new to them and would help broaden their world view. She also liked that the project got students out of their chairs for the day.
“When the kids get up and get their hands into things, they learn more. It’s easy to daydream than pay attention, but when you’re up and working, your brain is more engaged.”
At the end of it all Rachelle Patterson said it was an experience they’d likely never forget as such large-scale projects are atypical for the everyday curriculum.
“They don’t get to do these kinds of big projects often, unfortunately, but that’s his specialty: cross-curricular projects,” she said. “This is something hands-on and fun, especially for the end of the year so they get to work together on this. The students are so excited.”