Each month in their Think.Make.Talk. (TMT) class, third graders walk across the street to The Museum of Fine Arts, Houston to study an incredible world of paintings, sculpture, and artifacts. In February, TMT teachers, Gail Kirkconnell and Eby Harvey, and their students are exploring the art of Africa with a focus on two 20th-century artifacts, a beaded crown from Nigeria and beaded headdress from Cameroon.
The MFAH journey is magical as students travel underground through the yellow-gold lights of the Glassell School’s Olafur Eliasson Tunnel to the rainbow hues of the Carlos Cruz-Diez Tunnel, where they climb stairs to land at their destination: the Caroline Weiss Law Building’s Arts of Africa Collection.
A chance to see African art up close brings a buzz of excitement and discussion. As the students gaze at a multi-colored crown worn by the chief of the Yoruba tribe in Nigeria in the 1920s, Ms. Harvey asked them to consider the kinds of ceremonies where the king would wear his crown, and what would guests smell and hear? Raising their hands, the students answer: “You would smell grilled seafood or animals–maybe a zebra!” “You’d hear drums!” “The king would be visiting with his friends!”
After viewing and exiting the collection, students stopped to admire the late Houstonian and artist John Biggers’ famous work, “Jubilee: Ghana Harvest Festival.” The colorful, mural-style painting depicts a vibrant festival scene, much like the one they had imagined for the Yoruba tribe and their king.
When asked why she enjoys these MFAH trips with the students, Ms. Harvey says, “There’s no right or wrong way to look at and interpret art. I love showing art to students because there are so many different connections to be made and so many opportunities for students to imagine, think critically, draw conclusions, and share their ideas.”
“Often the quiet or more reluctant students have the most insightful ideas about the art we visit,” she continues. “As a teacher, it’s incredibly rewarding when students who struggle in core subjects where there is a ‘right’ answer have brilliant, thoughtful connections to different pieces. It just reiterates the fact that art is for everyone! You don’t have to be a ‘good’ artist to appreciate and learn from art.”
The 3rd graders heartily agree. “What I love about going on these museum trips,” says Victoria Campbell ‘27, “is that the longer you look at a painting or the headdresses, the more details you see. Like the beading–that crown probably took more than two years to make. And in the painting you can see what food people eat, what they wore, and that the land was grassy, not a desert.”
Adds Joey Anderson ‘27, “I was amazed that the artist who created the beaded crown made something so different from the crowns I have seen from England. Also, they traveled to Venice, Italy, to get the glass beads–so the artist better not make a mistake while creating it!”