SchoolArts Room

SchoolArts October Theme: Commemoration

By Nancy Walkup, posted on Sep 12, 2010

What do ghost bicycles, the Days of the Dead, and the Lincoln Memorial have in common? In different ways, they all commemorate a person, place, or event. 

Ghost bicycles are white-painted bicycles placed at a site where a cyclist died. The Days of the Dead are the most important celebration of the year in Mexico, as they honor the memory of loved ones who have died. The Lincoln Memorial honors one of our most revered presidents.
There are many ways for students to explore the theme of commemoration in the art room. Celebrating artist birthdays is one way that can take many forms (the SchoolArts calendar in the back of the issue lists many of these). In school, we are expected to observe months dedicated to different cultures or events such as Hispanic Heritage Month, Black History Month, Women’s History Month, Mother’s Day, and the like. Why not have students explore why we honor such observances and then create their own artistic commemorations?
Even young children can understand reasons for remembering a special person, time, or place. My fifth-grade students wrote stories about their favorite memories and then illustrated and recorded them for a VoiceThread project. (You can watch them at voicethread. com/#q+Denton,+Texas.)
An additional approach to the subject of commemoration could be to ask your students to consider which present-day people or events might be honored in times to come. The daily news offers much fodder for discussion and debate. For example, the Library of Congress recently announced that it would acquire the entire Twitter archive since March 2006. Are all tweets worthy of preservation? Are any worthy of commemoration? What do your students think?
Finally, another way to incorporate contemporary ideas is through a wonderful online resource, PBS Art: 21 episode about Ritual and Commemoration, available at art21/education/ritual/index.html. This unit offers three lessons on this theme: Remaking Myths, Honoring Heroes and History, and New Rituals. Though primarily written for secondary students, the concepts and ideas may be adapted for younger students as well.
The photo above was taken in a San Antonio, Texas, public park during the Days of the Dead.
You can visit SchoolArts online to find articles about Commemoration.