Summer School Highlights—Art in the Classroom

posted July 01, 2016 

On warm summer days, classrooms are often quiet and empty. But during the month of June, Red Cloud students’ voices filled the hallways as they created and illustrated their own works of art. Led by The Heritage Center’s Museum Educator Audrey Jacobs, students in Red Cloud’s summer school program took part in a series of multidisciplinary projects that blended art with math, history, culture, creative writing and much more.

“I want to use every moment I have with our students to capture their attention and get them to tap into their creativity—and summer is a wonderful time to use hands-on, innovative, arts-based learning,” said Audrey. “Each student approached their project with creativity and critical thinking. They are building their confidence in their ability to learn and create—and my hope is that that confidence carries into other parts of their lives.”

In designing art-based lessons for summer school students, Audrey almost always starts in The Heritage Center’s gallery. There, she can guide students through their interactions with works from The Center’s permanent collection and from the summer’s annual art show. This year she introduced summer school students to historic and contemporary ledger art, to intricately beaded moccasins, and to traditional star quilts. Students explored the origins of each object—who made them, who used them, and why they are an important part of tribal history.

Audrey used moccasins to provide a framework to middle schoolers for learning about cultural history and creative writing. In the gallery, students looked at a number of moccasins and discussed them in detail. They imagined going back in history to understand how the moccasins might have been used—to recreate the world in which they were made, worn and repaired. Each student wrote their own creative story or poem inspired by the moccasins and then illustrated their page with watercolor images painted by hand.

“It’s wonderful to see students in the gallery. They begin to notice the details of each piece of art in front of them. For instance, when we look at ledger art, they start to see the writing behind the images and we end up discussing why that writing is there,” Audrey explained.

While studying ledger art in the gallery, students began to learn about the history of ledger art. They learned how the tradition of pictorial narrative on hide paintings evolved during the 19th century when government and military agents and other European settlers first brought ledger paper and books to the Great Plains. They also learned how contemporary Native artists are using ledger art today to tell important cultural stories.

Then, they began to think through ideas for their final project: writing their own story and illustrating it with ledger art.

“As an example, we read Tasunka, a wonderful book by artist Donald Montileaux that tells the story of the Lakota people’s deep connection to the horse through his ledger art. It helps to spark their curiosity and ideas for their own book,” said Audrey. “Their stories can be about anything—I don’t limit them. Ultimately what I want them to learn is that they have the power and ability create using all different kinds of media—that they can express themselves in all kinds of ways.”

“I learned that it takes time to do things perfectly!” said Thomas, a rising seventh grader. “One of my favorite activities was poetry—it really helps express how you feel!”

Audrey helped students create their own books once their illustrations were complete, binding the pages together and even adding a cloth cover. She wanted them to be able share their finished work with friends and loved ones.

“I wanted each student to go home with a finished project to show their siblings, parents, and grandparents,” she said. “Hopefully they want to share what they’ve produced—and it sparks a longer conversation about the culture and history they learned about this summer.”


Red Cloud Graduates Take on the Ivy League


Red Cloud’s Greenhouse and Garden—Planting the Seeds of Change


Third Annual Lakota Language Summer Camp Continues to Grow and Inspire


Photos © Red Cloud Indian School