For many years, I have created art lessons that focused on Georgia O’Keeffe’s paintings of flowers and skulls. Looking for something different, I came upon her painting, The Lawrence Tree (1929). It struck me as perfect for introducing my first-graders to the artist.
To begin this lesson, I showed the children a picture of Georgia O’Keeffe and read to them, Getting to Know the World’s Greatest Artists: Georgia O’Keeffe, by Mike Venezia. This is one of my favorite books about O’Keeffe for students at this age.
On a bulletin board, I posted a variety of pictures of her work—many acquired from calendars over the years. Students had the opportunity to examine the artworks. Organic or “free-form” shape was discussed. Students were already familiar with geometric shapes, so we discussed how the two differed.
We also talked about the style of the artist: the colors, shapes, sizes and subjects. I told them how O’Keeffe wanted people to notice small details, so she painted small objects large. Students often remark about loving the bright, bold colors.
Next, we observed a picture of the artist’s painting The Lawrence Tree (1929) as I posed several questions: What time is it? How do you know? Why is the painting upside down? Why do you think O’Keeffe titled her painting The Lawrence Tree?
If you have Internet access, you could show students a YouTube video, called “Georgia O’Keeffe, The Lawrence Tree, 1929” (youtu.be/wQq2xOs2BYU). It is only a few minutes long and was filmed at the Wadsworth Atheneum Museum of Art in Hartford, Conn.
Later, we had a discussion about how museums are special places to view artworks. I also showed them, on a map, where the museum is located. It is only 40 minutes away from our school.
The Lawrence Tree is actually a ponderosa pine. Georgia O’Keeffe painted it during the summer in New Mexico. The tree is viewed from the base of the trunk and the branches reach out across a starry night sky.
The “Lawrence” in the painting’s title is author D.H. Lawrence, who had a ranch near Taos, New Mexico, where O’Keeffe would visit.
In her words: “ …There was a long weathered carpenter’s bench under the tall tree in front of the little old house that Lawrence had lived in there. I often lay on that bench looking up into the tree…past the trunk and up into the branches. It was particularly fine at night with the stars above the tree.”
Lawrence wrote, “The big pine tree in front of the house, standing still and unconcerned and alive…the overshadowing tree whose green top one never looks at ...”
The painting can be viewed at the Wadsworth Atheneum Museum of Art. O’Keeffe stated that the tree should “stand on its head,” and that is the way it is displayed at the museum.
Using the Smart Board and projector, I demonstrated sketching the tree trunk, in pencil. We noted how the base was wider and then became smaller toward the top. We drew the trunk from the bottom right corner diagonally and then added branches. Students were encouraged to make the branches on their own. Lines were drawn very softly, so they could be easily erased.
It did not take long to do the rough sketch. Some curvy lines were drawn for the outline of the pine needles—like small cloud shapes around the branches. Students were reminded to fill the space so the tree would appear to spread out.
During the second art class, we began to paint. Brown tempera was already poured onto large paper plates, which served as palettes (one of our art-curriculum vocabulary terms for first grade). The tree trunk and branches were painted with small-tipped brushes. Blue paint was used for the sky. Black was carefully applied for the pine needles. For the finishing touch, we used white paint and applicator sticks to dot the stars onto the blue sky.
Students were pleased with their final artworks. This was an easy painting, even for students whose fine motor skills were developing.
Primary-level students will …
• gain knowledge of the elements of design.
• examine the artistic work of others.
• participate in discussion of various artistic works of others.
• become aware of art-related resources outside the classroom.
• learn about Georgia O’Keeffe and her artworks.
• create a painting in the style of artist, Georgia O’Keeffe.
NATIONAL ART STANDARDS
• CREATE: Use observation and investigation in preparation for making a work of art.
• CREATE: Explore uses of materials and tools to create works of art or design.
• CONNECT: Understand that people from different places and times have made art
for a variety of reasons.
• 12″ x 12″ heavy white paper or oaktag
• Pencils, erasers
• Art prints, books, etc.
• Paper plates
• Tempera paint (black, blue, brown, white), brushes, applicator sticks
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Suzanne Dionne is a visual art teacher at Rotella Interdistrict Magnet School in Waterbury, Connecticut.
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