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Loving Latin American Art With High School Projects: Four Ideas

written by: Pamela Martin • edited by: Elizabeth Stannard Gromisch • updated: 2/8/2012

These four high school art projects will help your class learn about the art and culture of Latin America. Craft papel picado, traditional carving designs, mola designs or use traditional patterns to decorate terracotta pots will give a spicy touch to your classes.

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    Blend the Old with the Contemporary

    The traditions of Latin American art involve bright colors, carving and a wide variety of media for personal expression. Whether it’s intricately cut paper banners, classic rhythm instruments or molded sculptures, these projects will provide your students the chance to blend the old with the new.

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    Making Maracas

    Commemorate El Dia de los Muertos with some fiery Latin music and keep time with handmade papier-mache maracas.

    Things You Will Need

    • Newspapers and magazines
    • Light bulbs
    • Petroleum jelly
    • Liquid starch
    • Uncooked rice
    • Tempera paint
    • Acrylic paint
    1. Cut old newspapers and magazines into strips that are 1 inch wide.
    2. Pour the starch into a shallow dish.
    3. Coat the metal rim on the light bulb with petroleum jelly to make its later removal easier.
    4. Dip one newspaper strip in the starch until thoroughly coated.
    5. Pull the strip out of the dish, sliding it gently between two fingers to remove the excess starch.
    6. Wrap the strip around the light bulb, smoothing away wrinkles and bubbles.
    7. Continue until you have covered the bulb completely. Allow it to dry overnight.
    8. Add a second layer of paper and starch. When it dries completely, add a third layer, which should also dry for several hours.
    9. Tap the dried shape on a table edge or use a tack hammer to break the bulb inside.
    10. Use a craft knife to carefully cut around the top edge of the metal part of the light bulb. Hold the shape over a sheet of newspaper as you cut.
    11. Shake the broken glass out of the papier-mache shape and remove the metal piece.
    12. Pour 1 to 1 1/2 tablespoons of rice into the larger section.
    13. Reassemble the two pieces by wrapping two or three starched strips around the cut.
    14. Base-coat the maraca with black or dark blue tempera paint.
    15. Use bright temperas to paint traditional Day of the Dead designs, including skeletons, on the maraca. Allow the paint to dry completely.
    16. Apply a coat of varnish over the surface of the maraca. When it is dry, apply a second coat.
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    Designing a Mola

    “Mola" is the Kuna word for “cloth" or “shirt," and it refers to a beautiful art form of the women of Kuna Yala, or Panama. Made from many layers of fabric with designs of animals and plants, the molas are used for clothing, pillows and quilts.

    Things You Will Need

    • Tracing paper
    • Dressmaker’s pins
    • Cotton fabric in several colors
    • Fabric glue
    • Needle
    • Embroidery floss
    1. Draw an outline design of an animal or a plant on tracing paper.
    2. Draw around the outside of the pattern, 1/8 inch from the line. Repeat 1/8 inch outside that and continue until you have as many lines as fabrics.
    3. Pin the pattern to the fabric that will be the bottom layer of your mola. Cut around the outside line of the pattern. Remove the pattern from the fabric.
    4. Continue by pinning the pattern to each fabric and cutting around the outer line each time.
    5. Center the cut pieces on top of each other. Add fabric glue between the layers to hold them in place.
    6. Embroider the details of the picture onto the top of the design.
    7. Use fabric glue to affix the design onto a larger square or rectangle of fabric.
    8. Frame the mola or sew it to the top of a pillow.
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    Pretty Papel Picado

    Literally translated “punched paper," the lacy paper designs are thought to be Aztec in origin, dating from the time of the conquistadores. Contemporary papel picado is usually cut from stacks of 30-40 layers with mallets and fierritos, or special chisels.

    Things You Will Need

    • Tissue paper
    • Sharp pointed scissors
    1. Cut the tissue paper into 12 inch by 14 inch rectangles.
    2. Turn the paper so that the 14 inch side is the height. Draw a line 1 inch from the top. This will be the fold line to make a hanging edge.
    3. Fold the bottom edge of the paper up to the marked line. Fold the paper width-wise, leaving the marks on the outside.
    4. Continue to fold the paper several more times.
    5. Draw cutting lines to create designs along the fold lines. Be sure that your design leaves part of each fold intact.
    6. Cut on the design lines and remove the pieces.
    7. Carefully unfold the paper to reveal the lacy design.
    8. Fold the top edge on the marked line. Apply a thin line of glue to the edge of the paper and affix it to the back, leaving an opening like a sewing casing.
    9. Thread the papel picado on kitchen twine or monofilament line to hang your banner.
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    Faux Stone Sculptures

    While traditional stone carving is likely to be beyond the scope of a high school art class, your students can mimic the ancient Mayan ceramic sculptures by molding self-hardening porcelain clay.

    Things You Will Need

    • Self-hardening porcelain clay
    • Clay molds
    • Clay sealer
    1. Mold the porcelain clay into the desired shapes, especially those similar to Mayan or other Latin American sculptures.
    2. Allow the clay to dry, according to the manufacturer’s instructions.
    3. Paint the hardened sculpture with sealer to protect it and to give it a high-gloss finish.

    Your art lessons can enrich and extend the social studies curriculum with these Latin American high school art projects. Coordinate with the world geography teacher and give students the chance to connect and enjoy both classes even more.

References

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