Welcome to The Helpful Art Teacher, an interdisciplinary website linking visual arts to math, social studies, science and language arts.

Learning how to draw means learning to see. A good art lesson teaches us not only to create but to look at, think about and understand our world through art.

Please click on my page to see my personal artwork and artist statement: http://thehelpfulartteacher.blogspot.com/p/the-art-of-rachel-wintembe.html

Please contact me at thehelpfulartteacher@gmail.com. I would love to hear from you.

Saturday, January 7, 2017

SOLE Witness: Responding to the Holocaust with shoe sculptures

To see more photographs of the belongings of Holocaust victims please visit the website of the Auschwitz museum by clicking here and here.

1.5 million children died in the Holocaust. Together, can we create enough sculptures of shoes to memorialize all of them? Some of these children were very young at the time of their deaths. What would they have been able to accomplish if they had a chance to grow up? Can we imagine futures for all of them, free from war? 

If you would like to participate, watch the video above and create your own art instillation with your own students. Then photograph their work and send the pictures to thehelpfulartteacher@gmail.com
If your students created artist statements to go with their work, please share them  here too. Let me know how many children you memorialized and how you publicized your students work. If you blog about it, I will add the link to the bottom of this post.

I showed my students some photographs of these horrifying piles of shoes and told them about how the victims were transported in filthy cattle cars to what they thought were relocation camps. Once they got to their final destination, everyone's head was shaved (supposedly as a precaution against lice). They were directed to remove their clothing and shoes so that they could be showered off, deloused and disinfected. Once they entered the shower house the door was locked. Instead of water, poisonous gas came out of the shower heads. The bodies of victims were then cremated in giant ovens. The victims' hair was used to stuff mattresses and pillows, the discarded clothing could be salvaged for rags but the broken worn out shoes of the victims continued to pile up. When the allied forces liberated extermination camps throughout Europe at the end of the war these towering masses of footwear were one of the first things they saw. In many cases these anonymous broken shoes were all that was left of the millions of victims of Hitler's 'final solution'. Every single one of those shoes had a story to tell. The people who wore them had ideas, hopes, dreams and ambitions that were all taken away. 
Those shoes were worn by people who suffered persecution and starvation but still kept walking right up to the very end of their lives. If those shoes could talk, what would they tell us?

In contrast to these brown piles of anonymous shoes, I showed my classes the sculptures of several contemporary artists. Here are some shoe sculptures by Robert Tabor:
 In a New York Minute by Robert Tabor
"Little Red Fire Island Wagon" by Robert Tabor
To see more of Tabor's shoe sculptures, click here. He calls his work 'Sole Sensations'. Unlike the ragged discarded shoes of the Holocaust, each one of Tabor's creations is hand crafted to express an idea or tell a unique story.

The sculpture below, "Gold Digger" by Sebastian Errazuriz is part of his series, "12 shoes for 12 lovers". What do you think he was trying to say about the ex girlfriend who inspired this shoe? Why do you think he designed the heel that way?

You will only be able to see the full alphabetical list if you use a desktop computer or 'request desktop site' from a mobile device. Since my students would be using their own old shoes to create their sculptures I separated the piles of identities by gender, however I also honored student requests if they wanted to memorialize a victim or survivor of another sex.

We discussed how the Holocaust involved the extermination of many different types of people. You can read about the persecution of non-Jewish victims by clicking here.

The assignment was to imagine an adulthood free from war for the youngest victims and survivors of the Holocaust. 1.5 Million Children died in the Holocaust. Gypsies, Jews, Jehovah Witnesses, Polish Children, disabled children, children with epilepsy, children with autism. What might they have done with their lives had they had a chance to grow up? What diseases might they have cured? What novels might they have written? What paintings would they have painted? What inventions would they have envisioned? Let us pull their shoes out from the pile of anonymity and use our imagination to explore that question through our artwork.

There are as many different techniques for creating shoe sculptures as there are artists creating them. I introduced my students to several different techniques. Here is a simple, non-messy technique that you can use in your own classroom.
 Step 1: Trace the soles of the shoes onto cardboard

 Step 2: Cut the shapes out

Step 3: Trace the side of the shoe onto tag board or poster board leaving extra room at the bottom and at the heel 
 Step 4: Create a fringe along the bottom of the shoe
 Step 5: Cut the shoe silhouette out and bend the fringe in
Step 6: Before attaching the side of the shoe to the sole, trace an exact copy of it onto another piece of Oaktag and cut that out the same way.
 Step 7: Begin attaching the sides to the sole using flat pieces of tape. Match the two halves at the toe of the sole. 

 If necessary, cut an extra strip of Oaktag and attach it to complete the heel
 Step 8: For the tops of the shoes and the tongue, trace the sole of the shoe again, this time onto Oaktag
 Tape to the top but stop half way up

 Cut the top of the shoe like this. Save the top half for the tongue
 Tape the tongue underneath using a flat piece of tape

Here is the assembled paper shoe. My students were required to complete their shoes with Plaster Craft bandages. In order to do this, without the sculpture collapsing, the form will need to be completely covered with tin foil.

Here is a short video tutorial outlining the shoe assembly  process shown above:

The easiest way to create a shoe sculpture, using plaster bandages, is to cover your foot with saran wrap and simply mold the wet bandages around your foot. You can also make a cast of an old shoe after first covering it with saran wrap. Watch the video below to see how:

Many of my students found that they needed to cut the plaster bandages at the heel in order to slide their foot or shoe out of the mold. They then became frustrated that their sculpture was broken. Here is a quick tutorial on how to repair the heel of the shoe by using tin foil and then applying another layer of plaster craft over it to make it good as new!

My students, in grades 6-8, will have to create artist statements to go with their sculptures. Here are my general guidelines for writing an artist statement:

Here are my specific guidelines for  developing an artist statement for this shoe project:

The video below shows the variety of ways my students used to construct a three-dimensional plaster shoe. In art, as in life, there is no single correct way to solve a problem. 
This project promotes 'design thinking' and
 'creative problem solving'.

Adding detail to your sculpture
Sculptural details may be added with clay and then covered with Plaster Craft. As you can see from the video below, much of the detail will be lost when you cover the clay with with plaster bandages. This can be remedied by wetting small pieces of plaster bandage, mushing them up, sculpting them into the shape you want and then smoothing them into the wet plaster. 
You can also use a pencil or the point of a scissors to sculpt back in any details you have lost in the process.

 Please remember that you will eventually be painting your shoe and will thus have the opportunity to add the details back in later using line and color.
I added a hand holding a camera to my shoe, with the camera strap doubling as a shoe lace. My father, a Holocaust survivor, has always loved tinkering with machines, especially mechanical cameras. He loves to take photographs and brought his camera everywhere he went throughout most of his life. In all my childhood memories he his holding a camera. My shoe represents him, his individuality and his unique personality. It is my way of saying that he is not a label, a number or a member of a group that Hitler despised. He is an individual, with hopes and dreams. 

My students will get one full project grade for their sculpture and another full project grade for their written artist statement, connecting their artwork to the victim or survivor they were assigned.

To learn more about how Hitler persecuted artists and musicians during the Third Reich, please visit my blog post on the subject by clicking here.

To learn about the artwork of the children of Terezin Concentration Camp, please click here.

Friday, September 23, 2016

Spray Stenciling Leaves With Liquid Watercolors

Step 1. Place real leaves on the copy machine and cover them with a piece of white paper before Xeroxing them.

Step 2. Spray the back of each copy with spray adhesive and affix it to a piece of tag board.

Have students carefully cut out the leaves exactly along the lines so that both the shape they cut out and the background paper left over look like leaves. If this is done correctly, the background paper can be later used as a stencil.
Arrange your cut out leaves and stencils on your paper the way you want them. Do you want it to look like a leaf canopy over your head? Do you want it to look like leaves blowing on a windy day? Do you want your picture to look like autumn leaves gently falling?

You can use both the cut out leaves and the negative leaf shapes

I had each class save the leaves they cut out for other groups to use. That way each class had a large variety of design choices.

Here is what my finished sample design looked like. After I was done spraying the page, I removed the leaves, rearranged them, chose different colors and created a new layer, until my page was full of overlapping shapes. I wanted to evoke the feeling of walking in the woods and looking up at the leaf canopy.

Allow your painting to dry before painting your landscape with diluted black acrylic paint. When painting trees, always start at the bottom and paint upwards, lifting the brush slightly to make the branches get narrower as the branches grow. Here I used both a small round brush and a fan brush for texture.

The sprayed leaf silhouettes remind me of the feeling I get when I am walking in the woods and look up at the light shining through the leaves overhead.

Student art gallery