Sometimes the simplest of projects can turn out to be the most stunning and successful. My students not only loved making these cave paintings; they also learned a lot about the artwork sounds int the Lascaux caves and surface decoration.
The most famous and outstanding examples of prehistoric art made nearly 20,000 years ago were discovered by accident. The caves at Lascaux in Southern France were found in 1941 by two young boys playing in a field. Their dog disappeared down a hole to chase a ball, and when the boys heard the dog barking below, they followed him down into the caves. The lighted matches they used to guide their way revealed extraordinary drawings of animals. These astonishingly sophisticated examples of man’s earliest art have been studied by scientists and artists since their discovery. For a number of years the caves were open to visitors and tourists, but have been closed since 1963 to protect the art from disintegration and destruction. In this lesson, elementary students learn the rich history of prehistoric art and create their own “cave paintings.”
Before creating, I talked to students about creating their own “cave art.” We looked at examples and talked about the technique and the process.
Anthropology — the study of the history of human beings including their cultural history
Ceramics — the art of making objects of clay which are hardened by firing at a high temperature in a kiln
Composition — the organization of a work of art
Fire — a term used in ceramics; to heat the clay in a kiln at a very high temperature until it is dry and hard and becomes pottery
Kiln — an oven or furnace that reaches very high temperatures (2000°F to 2300°F) and is used for drying, firing, and glazing ceramic ware
Prehistoric — relating to the time before written history
Slab — a rolled out piece of clay of a certain thickness
Template — a positive pattern
Trace — to copy a drawing onto another surface by following the lines of the original drawing
Underglaze — a special type of color that is usually put on a ceramic piece before the glaze. It has no flux (glass former) in it so it stays where it is put when fired and is good for detail work. It is used for paint ing and decorating ceramic pieces.
1. The students each got a handful of red clay and rolled a slab (one of the techniques of hand-building)
2. The students had already drawn an animal that might have been seen in prehistoric times on a piece of cardstock and carefully cut it out. This was placed on the clay slab so that students could cut out a random shape that looked like broken rock.
3. The surface decoration – painting – can be done directly on the wet clay. Underglazes in rock tones (white, gray, brown) were sponged around the edges of the template and out to the edges of the clay.
4. The template was removed and details were added with a thin brush and black underglaze.
5. Finished pieces were put on a cart to air dry before a trip to the kiln. The cave paintings were fired, but left unglazed to simulate a rough rock like surface.
Kids really loved doing this project and learned about art history, as well. They were surprised to find that the Icemen were quite talented and drew and painted animals that are worthy of being hung the Louvre Museum!
This lesson was loosely based on a lesson by Allyson Santner, elementary school art teacher in Brownsburg, Indiana.