The ARTS of Mardi Gras

In this guest blog, Rebecca Brown, music teacher at Little River Elementary School, Orlando, shares her experiences teaching the arts of Mardi Gras.  This colorful celebration is a perfect opportunity to dig deeper into Jazz music and to experience cultural traditions.  Rebecca uses ideas and strategies from Teaching through the ARTS: WRITING in the lessons that she outlines below.

The ARTS of Mardi Gras – Rebecca Brown

Come January 1st, many Americans are busily putting away holiday decorations and starting to address their new year’s resolutions. In New Orleans, however, the celebrations are just getting started. January 6th marks the official start of Carnival season, which lasts several weeks and culminates on Mardi Gras, or Fat Tuesday. For the five years I taught in New Orleans, Carnival season was my favorite time of year.

The city truly comes alive in mid-January, as people decorate their homes with the official colors of Mardi Gras (purple, green, and gold) and elaborate parades start to roll through town with music that energizes the crowds. Many schools and workplaces have Friday King Cake parties, where the colorful ring-shaped dessert is served. School children also partake in the celebration with lessons on the history, art and music of Mardi Gras.  Since returning home to Florida two years ago, I include many Mardi Gras traditions in my classroom.


The Music of Mardi Gras

Essential Question: How do the arts enhance celebrations?

 Learning Goal: Students will be able to describe a cultural tradition through its music and art.

Music Content Standards:

  • Performing on instruments alone and with others;
  • Listening to, analyzing, and describing music;
  • Evaluating Music and Musical performances;
  • Understanding Music in relation to history and culture

Materials: Photographs of Louis Armstrong, pictures of a brass band or marching band, recording of Louis Armstrong’s When the Saints Go Marching In, recording of Dirty Dozen Brass Band When the Saints Go Marching In, rhythm sticks, jazz rhythm pattern cards

Lesson Outline:

The most natural way to introduce Mardi Gras is through music. On Day 1, I play Louis Armstrong’s When the Saints Go Marching In as students enter. Students complete an Active Music Listening Experience Guide (see p. 63 TTAW) as they listen again. After listening, discuss their responses to the melody, rhythm, and mood of the music. The students usually comment on how happy it sounds and how it makes them want to dance.

Next I introduce the Jazz style of music. I show students pictures of brass bands and parades and we discuss what instruments students heard in the recording. I explain the history of the music and of Louis Armstrong. There are many helpful books about jazz and jazz musicians (some are listed below). It’s easy to tie this reading into a variety of subject areas.

National E.L.A. Anchor Standards:

Relate ideas and works with societal, cultural and historical context to deepen understanding.

After our discussions, I play the Dirty Dozen Brass Band recording of When the Saints Go Marching In and ask students to compare the difference between this recording and Louis Armstrong’s recording.

I invite students to create a marching band along with the Dirty Dozen Brass Band recording.  Students move through general space with rhythm sticks, marching to the beat during the instrumental portion of the music. When the singing comes in, they freeze in place and student use rhythm sticks to play rhythms from selected rhythm cards. When the instrumental portion returns, students resume marching.

Partners share their impressions of the music of New Orleans.

 Integrating Visual Art of Mardi Gras

Another important aspect of Mardi Gras is the art. In addition to decorating their homes with festive colors and tinsel, many people in New Orleans use Carnival season as an opportunity to dress up for the parades. Some even wear hats, wigs and masks. Artists spend months creating parade floats. The Krewes, or societies that organize the parades often create floats and parade themes based on mythological figures (Orpheus, Morpheus, Proteus, etc.). Students in Louisiana created shoebox parade floats, modeled after the life-size versions from their favorite parades.

Using the Read the Picture strategy (p. 11 and 70 TTAW), students build background knowledge through reading photos and art images as well as pictures of Venetian style masks. Students can make their own decorative masks with construction paper and glitter to wear in a class parade

National Art Anchor Standards:

  • Generate and conceptualize artistic ideas.
  • Organize and develop artistic ideas and work.
  • Refine and complete artistic work,
  • Convey meaning through presentation of artistic work.


Synthesize and relate knowledge and personal experience to making music and art.

Some Resources:

Teaching through the ARTS: WRITING by Mary Palmer and Susan Rosoff (TTAW)

The Jazz of Our Street by Fatima Shaik

If I Only Had a Horn: Young Louis Armstrong by Roxane Orgill

Mamma Don’t Allow by Thacher Hurd

Happy Thanksgiving!

“Over the river and through the woods, to Grandmother’s house we go”…. Which is what at least some of us are doing this Thanksgiving.   Don’t forget to sing the song to make your journey fly by!

Anna Mary Robertson Moses (Grandma Moses), Catching the Turkey, 1941

Leading up to Thanksgiving many of us are menu planning and getting ready for guests. We were curious how artists might depict the holiday.

Doris Lee, Thanksgiving, 1942

Doris Lee, Thanksgiving, 1942

Doris Lee, Thanksgiving, 1942

Thanksgiving is often a group effort. This American lithograph was printed done during World War II when shortages and rationing presented challenges. Nevertheless, there is a happy spirit in this family. The boy in the doorway looks eagerly at the turkey in the oven, and woman basting it has a smile on her face. Sunlight streams through the window highlighting the woman rolling out dough for the pie crust. Would we be defrosting a pie crust from the supermarket? A basket of vegetables that are probably straight from the garden (maybe a Victory garden?) and fill the wicker basket. The best china is coming out of the cupboard, bound for the table in the background. Even the animals are happy. The dog sleeps peacefully under the warm stove, and the cat gets a treat from the little helper. This is the kind of ideal day that we all envision

Do any of these artworks represent what your Thanksgiving will be like?

Spending time in the kitchen?


Laurie Simmons, Purple Woman/Kitchen/Second View 1978

Laurie Simmons, Purple Woman/                                                                                                                                                                  Kitchen/ Second View, 1978



Wayne Thiebaud, Pies, Pies, Pies, 1961


These pies really look yummy. Can you figure out what kinds of pies this hostess made for guests?

Cooking a turkey?

Harry Cimino, The Marchbanks Calendar - November, undated

Harry Cimino, The Marchbanks Calendar – November, undated

This is a nice big turkey, isn’t it? We think that it would feed lots of people!

Eating together?


Norman Rockwell, Freedom from Want, 1943

Using in the dining room with your best china? This is a really fancy house, isn’t it?

Lansdowne House Dining Room, 1766-69

Arranging centerpieces? There are so many beautiful colors to include!

Werner Drewes, Thanksgiving Still (No. 246), undated

Werner Drewes, Thanksgiving Still (No. 246), undated

Washing dishes?  Who washes the Thanksgiving dishes at your house?

Liza Lou, detail, sink from Kitchen, 1991-95

Liza Lou, detail from Kitchen, 1991-95

Watching (or playing) football?

Winogrand, Garry - Dallas, TX 1974

Garry Winogrand, Dallas, Texas, 1974

Watching a Thanksgiving Day parade?  Mary’s band marched in the Macy’s Parade when she was a little girl!


Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade

Giving thanks for something special in your life?

Miller, Richard - Thanksgiving Table 1941

Richard Miller, Thanksgiving Table, 1941

Homer, Winslow - Wishbone

Winslow Homer, Thanksgiving Day in the Army – After Dinner: The Wishbone, from Harper’s Weekly, December 3, 1864

May you get the end of the wishbone that makes all your dreams come true!

Wherever you spend Thanksgiving, we hope it’s a happy one. We give thanks to you, our readers, for bringing arts integrated ideas into your life.


Susan and Mary


It’s October and the baseball playoffs are going full steam. We had a “ball park” dinner last night – peanuts, Cracker Jacks, and hot dogs. Yum… it was almost like being right in the stadium as we watched the game on TV in Florida.

Elaine de Kooning, Baseball Players, 1953

Elaine de Kooning, Baseball Players, 1953

Morris Kanto, Baseball at Night, 1934

Morris Kanto, Baseball at Night, 1934

Did you know that major league baseball did not play its first night game until 1935?   League play and exhibition games were played at night games beginning in 1930. Baseball games were the rallying cry for community get-togethers.   Morris Kantor captures this excitement in Baseball at Night, his 1934 depiction of a nighttime baseball game.

Check out this short but powerful Metropolitan Museum of Art post on baseball and art. Really? Yes, baseball is a popular topic with artists, too.

Earnest Thayer’s poem, “Casey at the Bat” captures the excitement of the game and the hoped for thrill of winning. The fictional team of Mudville is behind, but with two runners on, hopes of winning the game rest on “Casey.” The building drama of what will happen is like breathlessly waiting for the top star to hit a home run to win the game. You might read the poem through for understanding before you try the dramatic version. Test different ways of expressing each line, and see what you like best. Alternate lines so that everyone has a chance to read. Think of this as the team approach to poetry!

“Take Me Out to the Ballgame” is like the “national anthem” of baseball. Try singing this Tin Pan Alley song from 1908 during the famous seventh inning stretch.

Yep… baseball is an American passion and the arts help us to savor the moments. We hope that you’ll enjoy some baseball through the ARTS!

Susan and Mary

Arts Explosion! The Harlem Renaissance

Last weekend, the Florida Alliance for Arts Education began its annual series of Arts Integration Symposia.  Susan and Mary had a great time sharing arts integration materials and  strategies for  integrating the arts with each other and with the general curriculum through the theme of the Harlem Renaissance.  Keynote speaker Trent Tomengo, Seminole State College Humanities Professor, said that he wished all students could experience the Harlem Renaissance in the manner that we were teaching.  We know that they can!  Our teacher participants were enthusiastic and ready to jump in!

Using strategies from our latest book Teaching through the ARTS: WRITING, Midsummer Night by Hayden Palmer, 1939, came to life.  After exploring the artwork using the Read the Picture strategy, participants “stepped into” the painting to create the sounds conjured up by the image.  Babies crying, mamas calling, birds singing and scolding, multiple conversations, children playing, and more brought the image to life while causing participants to think about the lives of people during the Harlem Renaissance period.  This simple Soundscape, using only vocal sounds, deepened the experience of this image while actively engaging viewers with the artistic content.

Visual art works help students to, well… visualize content.  The Savoy was one of the important night clubs and a really popular place to go during the Harlem Renaissance.  Reginald Marsh captures the excitement and engagement of dancers in his 1932 painting entitled Tuesday Night at the Savoy.

Jazz great Duke Ellington and his band were regular performers at the Savoy.  People are still dancing to his hit tune:  It Don’t Mean a Thing if It Ain’t Got that Swing.  Find a version that you like to bring the painting and Duke and his band alive for your young learner.

Share some books about the people of the Harlem Renaissance  to further extend students learning.  Some books that we like:   Duke Ellington by Andrea Davis Pinkney with illustrations by Brian Pinkney;  Ellington was not a street by Ntozake Shange; Charlie Parker Played be-bop by Chris Raschka (very easy reading).  Heighten the experience of reading the books by playing your own “sound track” of that music (jazz, be-bop…) as you read to your child.  Ntozake Shange’s  i live in music is written as poetry.  She combines 21 diverse artworks by Romare Bearden with her lyrical tribute to the rhythms that connect us as people.

Bringing the arts into history is a natural… and definitely grabs students’ interest and attention.  The Harlem Renaissance wasn’t an isolated time in our history.  The music of Africa, of Slave Songs, Gospel and more all formed the foundation from which new sounds emerged.  The many styles of music from the era of the Harlem Renaissance celebrate man’s creativity and need for expression through the arts.

Although the experiences that we shared at the Harlem Renaissance Symposium aren’t in Teaching through the ARTS: WRITING, all of the strategies are found there. The strategies can be plugged in to just about any content. We’d love to hear about the many uses that you’ll find for these materials! Please email us at

Teach on!   

Mary and Susan

Start Art with Everyday Stuff

Creating art works can be an amazing way to recycle. There’s a great interest in becoming “makers” these days. Why not recycle, that is repurpose, remake, and reuse, by envisioning old stuff in new ways? Playing with materials will allow you and children in your classroom or home to design artworks or to stage your own exhibitions. We hope that your scroll through the images here will rev up your creative thinking and allow you to make something of interest to you, and, possibly, to others as well!

Maybe it’s been the coincidence of seeing all the back-to-school sales on pencils combined with Tara Donovan’s work Colony of Pencils that made us think about how many ordinary things can become extraordinary art.

Donovan, Tara-Detail of Colony 2004

Tara Donovan, Colony, 2002

What to do with those old pencil stubs? You might consider keeping all them in an art drawer — at kid level for ease of use. In addition to pencils, what about rulers, erasers, or bottle corks?

Plastic cups, buttons, and tape are some of the completely ordinary things Donovan transformed into thought-provoking art.

Tara Donovan, Cups

Tara Donovan, Cups

Donovan, Tara - detail, Nebulous, 2002 (cellulose adhesive tape)

Tara Donovan, Bluffs, 2005

Tara Donovan, Bluffs, 2005

Tara Donovan, Bluffs, 2005

Tara Donovan, Bluffs, 2005

What you could do with straws, rubber bands, toothpicks, paperclips, or hundreds of other things? Take the invitation to bigger thinking!

Don’t throw those leftover birthday candles away – repurpose them a la Donald Lipski.

In the spirit of Haim Steinbach, create a display of things with like colors or shapes.

Wouldn’t it be fun for your child/students to think about toys (or the display of art works) from an aesthetic point of view? Let your child be the curator… and change your home exhibitions frequently. Talk about how your young curator made choices and the decisions that led to his/her final arrangement.

Martin Creed, # 370 110 Balls, 2004

How many different kinds of balls do you have at home? Martin Creed created an installation of 110– each one was a different size or color. He wanted people to walk through the balls, so there really was no constant arrangement as the balls moved every time someone passed through the space. Balls are especially fun because of their movement; what other things do you have multiples of in your house? Some possibilities might be shells, books, time pieces, or animals (stuffed, metal, glass). As a curator, you get to make choices. Be sure to take photos of your creations; it will be fun to look back at your collection over the year.

We think that being a curator might stimulate greater interest in what you and your students, grandchildren or children see in the world around us. Check out displays in stores, for instance. Notice how groupings, colors, and shapes all play roles in attracting interest. These observations, maybe even subliminally, will take root to inform inspire your own displays.

All parts of the brain need exercise. Taking the chance to be creative and generate innovative ideas might be just the exercise needed! Clearly, raw materials for our creative use are lurking around the house and in the classroom! Your creativity may even have an unexpected benefit of clearing some of the clutter that often seems to collect.

We hope you’ll give it a try! We’d love to see your results. How about tweeting a photo of your work to MaryPalmer@artsnkids?

Mary and Susan

Images: (left to right)

Top row: Tara Donovan, details, Colony, 2004 (pencils)

Second row: Tara Donovan, detail, Untitled, 2006 (plastic cups), and detail of Nebulous, 2002 (tape)

Third Row: Tara Donovan, Bluffs, 2005 and detail, Bluffs (buttons)

Fourth Row: Donald Lipski, Untitled No. C-019, 1991

Fifth Row: Haim Steinbach, tonkong rubbermaid II-1, 2007

Sixth Row: Haim Steinbach, Untitled (baseball player, Snoopy, train-engine), 1975

Seventh Row: Martin Creed, #370, 110 Balls, 2004

Strike Up the Band!

It’s the 4th of July! This is a time to celebrate our country… and MUSIC and ART are such an important parts of the celebration.

Henry Parade 4th 2014

How about having a parade? My most recent took place in a swimming pool… with a swim noodle serving as my drum major’s baton! As we sang the tune of one of John Phillip Sousa’s best marches, “The Stars and Stripes Forever,” we marched through the water. Fun? Absolutely! To make it last, we’ll take in a 4th of July parade, complete with exciting marching bands!

Singing any of our many patriotic songs provides an opportunity to reflect on some of our nation’s history. Read The Star-Spangled Banner, a beautiful book illustrated by the great Peter Spier, to build understanding of the song’s words through his detailed color images. Sing familiar songs such as Yankee Doodle, America (My Country Tis of Thee), You’re a Grand Old Flag, Woody Guthrie’s This Land Is Your Land, and Irving Berlin’s God Bless America. (Don’t remember these? Remind yourself through a quick computer search!) Some of these songs may conjure up memories of your own experiences in singing or hearing these songs at important moments in our history.  Share your own stories with your favorite children!

The Star-Spangled Banner Peter Spier

Art works depicting traditional scenes from 4th of July celebrations is abundant. Artist Allan Rehan Crite (1910-2007) was interested in chronicling urban life. This scene, Parade on Hammond St. 1935, shows the family and community togetherness engendered by the parade. Jasper Johns (b. 1930), considered to be one of the most influential artists of the 20th century, created many versions of the American Flag. Childe Hassam (1859-1935) was a prolific American Impressionist painter. One of my favorites is this image of July 4, 1916.   Many artists have captured moments in history. This image by Percy Moran (American, 1862-1935) depicts Betsy Ross showing the American flag that she created. The Birth of Old Glory can be the basis for much discussion of the evolution of our flag.

Allan Rohan Crite, Parade on Hammond Street, 1935

Allan Rohan Crite, Parade on Hammond Street, 1935


Jasper John FLAG, 1954

Childe Hassam. Fourth of July, 1916

Childe Hassam. Fourth of July, 1916


The Birth of Old Glory, ca. 1917

When it comes to iconic symbols of our country, perhaps none stand out more than the Statue of Liberty. This array of images provides stimulus for the idea that art takes many forms (2D and 3D, for example) and can utilize a wide variety of materials (e.g. wood, metal, cardboard, and bottle caps.) Images: Malcah Zeldis, Miss Liberty Celebration, 1987; Rhonda Kuhlman and Chris Ake, Miss Liberty, 2002; Rev. J. L. Hunter, Six Statues of Liberty, 1985-1990; Andy Warhol, Statue of Liberty, 1963.

Malcah Zeldis, Miss Liberty Celebration, 1987Rhonda Kuhlman and Chris Ake, Miss Liberty, 2002

Rev. J. L. Hunter, Six Statues of Liberty, 1985-1990  Andy Warhol, Statue of Liberty, 1963

So, grab a flag and have a parade! Perhaps you’ll create your own Statue of Liberty or Liberty Bell to stand alongside the parade route.

Happy Birthday, America!

Mary and Susan

Mary and Susan

Where Are the Fathers???

In anticipation of Father’s Day we searched for paintings of fathers and their children, we came up with relatively few. A search of 1,262 images in the National Gallery of Art’s data base for artworks tagged father, there were several religious works, several family portraits, or artists’ paintings of their fathers, but surprisingly, this one the only secular painting of a father and child together that appeared.

large      Jonathan Budington, Father and Son, 1800

Courtesy of the National Gallery of Art, Washington, DC

This absence of paintings duplicated an experience Susan had a few years ago when she was trying to put together an album of memorable pictures of father and son together. Although they had hundreds of photographs, she discovered that there were relatively few of the dynamic duo. Dad always seemed to be behind the camera recording the activities that he and his son did together. It reminded us of the famous John Singer Sargent painting of the Daughters of Mr. Edward Darby Boit, 1882 at the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston where we see the daughters, but not their father. Given the title, why Mr. Boit is not included remains a bit of a mystery.

Sargent, John Singer - The Daughters of Edward Darley Boit, 1882 MFA Boston

John Singer Sargent, The Daughters of Mr. Edward Darby Boit, 1882 Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

It’s a bit puzzling why there are so many paintings of mothers and their children, and not fathers. One artist is working at rectifying that. David Hilliard has photographed fathers in creative ways. He sometimes focuses on just his father, but also records their time together.

Hilliard, David - My Father's Shirt 1994

David Hilliard, My Father’s Shirt, 1994   You can see many more of his photographs at

The panoramic form of his photographs, which are made up of sequential panels, give a fresh feeling to things that might otherwise seem ordinary.  On his website, he states:  I continually aspire to represent the spaces we inhabit, relationships we create, and the objects with which we surround ourselves. I hope the messages the photographs deliver speak to the personal as well as the universal experience. I find the enduring power and the sheer ability of a photograph to express a thought, a moment, or an idea, to be the most powerful expression of myself, both as an artist, and as an individual.”

Hilliard, David - Hug, 2008 David Hilliard, Hug, 2008

Put your creativity to work. Maybe your photographs could be panoramas of things your father loves to do, or things that are symbols of the kind of man he is. What images can you piece together that tell the way you feel about your father? If you are a father, maybe you want to piece together something that tells what it’s like to be a father or grandfather.

Whatever you do, we hope that you can be with the people you love on Father’s Day.   Take time to record some memories of the times you share together.  Make sure your fathers and grandfather are represented in your treasured family photographs.

chris and eric

Cheers, and Happy Father’s Day!

Susan and Mary