Best known for his photographs of Weimaraner dogs dressed and posed in various settings, William Wegman is a fun artist for young children to learn about and discuss.
Children love the dogs in his art work and the images provide a lot for kids to wonder and talk about. Many of the children in my class have already seen his work on calendars, posters and even on Sesame Street.
Wegman is a very accomplished painter as well as a photographer. He started his art career by earning an MFA in painting and then teaching at various universities.
Many years ago, while living in Long Beach, Calif., he literally used a coin toss to decide whether to purchase a Weimaraner. The puppy in question, Man Ray, began his long history of collaborating with dogs in films, photographs and performance.
My third-grade students learned about his world-renowned photographs of dogs, which provide humor and commentary on modern culture and American routines. We watched some of his short films, which have been featured on Saturday Night Live, Sesame Street and Nickelodeon.
The students learned what “anthropomorphism” means and enjoyed discussing examples in Wegman’s work. (Anthropomorphism means giving human qualities and traits to animals or other non-human things.)
After viewing some of his photographs and films, we read two of his children’s books, Flo & Wendell (Dial Books, 2013) and Flo & Wendell Explore (Dial Books, 2014) These are fantastic books and I highly recommend them if you would like to teach your students about Wegman’s art. In these books, he combines painting with photographs of his dogs’ faces to colorfully illustrate the stories.
We compared the illustrations in these books to his photographs and the students analyzed how they thought both kinds of artworks were made.
One of his recent painting series involves painting on and extending postcards. This technique carried over into his children’s book illustrations, which Wegman created by painting around the photographs of the dogs and extending the pictures.
If you are interested in seeing some of his fascinating postcard paintings, a collection of them was released in book form, William Wegman: Paintings (Harry N. Abrams; 2016).
Showing the photographs, films, paintings and children’s books allowed my third-graders to see the range of what is possible for one artist to achieve. An artist doesn’t have to just define him- or herself as a photographer; they can explore the same themes across different media.
After learning about and discussing his art work, the children were eager to work on creating their own anthropomorphic photomontages. To prepare for this project, I found and printed a good selection of animal photos (dogs, cats, rabbits, etc.) from Pixabay.com, a website with free, public domain pictures.
The students neatly cut out the animal heads and glued them to their papers. They then used a variety of media—watercolor paints, Kwik Stix paint sticks, colored pencils, markers, etc.—to create the bodies, accessories and background.
The kids had all kinds of fun ideas for their animals, including a birthday party, badminton game, dance studio, restaurant scene and wedding. I got a kick out of seeing all the ways they made the animals anthropomorphic.
Wegman work could be used as a launching point for many hands-on art explorations, and his extended postcard paintings would be an interesting challenge for advanced students.
Older students could create picture books for younger kids, using a similar painting technique with magazine images. Or, kids could create digital photomontages using Photoshop® or iPad apps. To connect with language- arts studies, students could respond by writing a story about one of William Wegman’s artworks, or they could write and illustrate their own story.
William Wegman’s rich array of creative work is just waiting to be mined for some great to many art lessons and activities. Have fun exploring them in your classroom!
Elementary students will …
• learn about a contemporary artist and discuss the artist’s influences, motivations and techniques.
• understand the term anthropomorphic and create an artwork showing anthropomorphism.
• create a visual story by creating a photomontage of animal heads with hand-drawn bodies and accessories. They will extend the image and create a background setting for their characters.
NATIONAL ART STANDARDS
• Creating: Conceiving and developing artistic ideas and work.
• Connecting: Relating artistic ideas and work with personal meaning and external context.
• Books by William Wegman: Flo and Wendell and Flo and Wendell Explore
• Pictures of Wegman’s artwork (calendars, posters, books, websites)
• 12″ x 18″ white construction paper
• Scissors, glue sticks
• Graphite pencils, colored pencils, markers, Kwik Stix, watercolor paints, crayons, etc.
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Marcia Beckett teaches K–6 art at EAGLE School in Madison, Wisconsin. She shares art and teaching ideas on her blog: www.ArtIsBasic.com.
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