Unit 1: Lesson 2

Fertile Ground portrays the roles of people in the community.


In this section:

Goals and Outcomes
Key Questions
Lesson Narrative
Small Group Activity: Community Roles
Individual Activity: Community Roles
Individual Art Making Activity: Representing Past, Present, and Future in a Drawing
Assessment Strategies

Goals and Outcomes:

Students will understand the various roles people can play in a community.
Students will be able to identify the ways visual artists can represent the roles people play.
Students will understand the ways people in the past, present and future can be connected.
Students will learn how tools such as researching, journaling and interviewing can inform the storytelling process.
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Key Questions:

How do the different roles people play make up a community?
What clues can visual artists give to help identify people and what they do?
How do artists indicate when people lived?
How can artists make connections between people from different times?
How can researching, journaling and interviewing help determine how visual imagery will look?
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Lesson Narrative:

A community is made up of many different people who help the community grow through the various roles they play. People can have different jobs; they can volunteer to help in the community; they can support community events and activities; and they can play a role as a family member.
What are some of the roles people play in your community?

Teacher Preparation – Preview the websites given in the lesson. For most sites there is explanatory information about the work and the culture.

Look at the following works
Littleton Alston, Jazz Trio
Jacob Lawrence, Builders 1980
Duane Hanson, Man on Mower
Sofanisba Anguissola, Self Portrait as Painter
Pieter Breugel, The Harvesters

What do you see people doing in these images?
What clues do the artists give you to help you identify the roles these figures play? (clothing, objects, etc.)
Which of these actions might be people’s jobs?
Could they be things other than jobs, like volunteer activities, hobbies or family roles?
Which of these look like people from today?
Which look like people from the past? What do you see that makes you say that?

Look at the following two images:
Portrait of a Chinese Emperor in Court Dress
Hans Holbein, The Ambassadors
Do these figures look like someone you would see today in your community? Why or why not?
What might you guess about the roles these people play based on their clothing and the objects around them?

(Note to teacher: preview the information on the websites so you can answer questions that students might have about these images.)

The Chinese emperor would have been recognized by people at the time because he is seated on a throne and wearing special garments and a crown. Emperors were represented in a formal way, seated, facing front and very still.

Look again at Hans Hobein’s The Ambassadors.
What is an ambassador and what do they do? Do we still have ambassadors today?
Artists often used objects to symbolize ideas.
What objects indicate that these men are educated and well-traveled?
What objects could you connect to subjects that you study in school?

Now look at:
Judy Chicago Dinner Party: Ethel Smyth
Judy Chicago created a large triangular table with place settings for 39 different women throughout time who made a contribution to history. She symbolized each woman with a plate and a table runner. Without using the human figure she tries to tell you what roles these women played in their communities.
What do you know about Ethel Smyth based upon this plate and table runner? What symbols do you see?

Now look at the poster of Fertile Ground.
Look at the figures in the community and what they are doing.
What roles are these figures representing in the community?
What features (clothing, objects, gestures, etc.) give you clues to the roles of these figures?
Find a figure representing each of the following roles:
Someone who represents the arts community.
Someone who represents sports and recreation in the
Someone who represents protection of the community.
Someone who represents the business community.
Someone who represents the importance of agriculture to the
Someone who represents the importance of family in the
Someone who represents the young people and the future growth of the community.
Someone who represents senior citizens in the community.
Someone who represents the past history of the community.

Peter Kiewit (#1 on the key) represents the senior citizens of Omaha and is positioned so he is looking over the mural. His legacy as a philanthropist provided the money to have the mural painted. Peter Kiewit was born in 1900 and lived in Omaha his entire life. He graduated from Central High School in 1918. Young Peter had worked for his father in the company, which began as a small family-owned bricklaying business, since he was 14 years old. Under his leadership, the company eventually became one of the largest employee-owned businesses in the United States. Mr. Kiewit was a generous philanthropist and community leader and believed that there was no better place to live in the United States than Omaha. He also attributed his success to the work ethic of Nebraska and he wanted to return his wealth to the community. He put his wealth into The Peter Kiewit Foundation to support charitable projects to benefit the public. Fertile Ground is one of those projects and a gift to the city. (Adapted from peterkiewitfoundation.org)

Small Group Activity: Community Roles

Reproduce the mind map for each small group. (Link to full-page mind map to print.) Have the students brainstorm the roles Peter Kiewit has played in the Omaha community and fill in the mind map

Peter Kiewit’s life influenced the past of Omaha and continues to impact the present.
Which of the figures in the mural look like someone you could see today in your community?
Which of the figures look like they lived in the past?
What about these figures gives you clues to when they might have lived?
Are the figures from the past the larger or the smaller figures in the mural?

Meg Saligman creates the smaller figures in the background to represent the community’s past and the larger figures in the foreground to represent Omaha’s present.

In her Philadelphia mural Common Threads Meg Saligman directly connects figures from the present day to figures from the past.
Meg Saligman, Common Threads (image on Bemis site).

This mural depicts sixteen modern-day high school students from Philadelphia and pairs them with fifteen historical figures. It portrays the artist’s belief that the past and present are linked through common ties among human beings.
Look at the sculptures from Tell Asmar in ancient Mesopotamia:
Mesopotamian Art

Can you find one of these figures in Common Threads?
How does the teenager next to this figure make a connection to this ancient sculpture?

Find other present and past pairs of figures in the mural and discuss how they are connected visually.

Look back at Fertile Ground. Meg Saligman also connects past and present in the Omaha mural, but here she suggests the passage of time through the placement of figures in space.
Find a figure from the past who is in the background.
Find a present-day figure in the foreground.
How do these figures relate in size? Why?

Watch the short video (Coming Soon) in which Meg Saligman discusses her process of designing the mural.
As you watch this video think about answering the following questions:
In what different ways did Meg Saligman gather information about Omaha’s past and present?
How did she use this information in creating the mural?

(After watching the video the teacher will lead a discussion of these two questions.)

The photographs that Meg Saligman used as the basis of her historic images span nearly 150 years. The photographer in the mural (9) is Louis Bostwick (b. 1868) who took many of the historical photographs that Meg Saligman used in her research. His role in the mural is to represent the artisans of the community, skilled workers who make things by hand. As a photographer Louis Bostwick documented the growth of Omaha at the beginning of the 20th century.
How is Louis Bostwick’s camera different from one you would use today?
Take a look at this timeline of historic cameras.
Think of a photograph you or your family took to document a place or event.
What do you think people in 50 years will find old-fashioned looking in your photograph?

The figure of the musician (12) is taken from an historic photograph but his face is a portrait of the 20th c. Omaha musician Preston Love (1921-2004). He represents the rich jazz history of the African American community in North Omaha. Loves Jazz and Art Center (2510 North 24th Street) was named after Preston Love because of his important musical role in the community.

What other historical figures can you find in the mural?
What do you think their roles are?

Note to teacher: Making connections to language arts, teachers might select relevant literature with which to enrich students’ understanding of these historical figures and their roles in society. Consider age-appropriate first person narratives about pioneer life, historical Native American life, and early Omaha such as:
Andrea Warren, Pioneer Girl. Growing up on the Prairie
Laura Ingalls Wilder, The Little House books
Barbara Greenwood, A Pioneer Sampler. The Daily Life of a Pioneer Family in 1840
Willa Cather, My Antonia
Joanna Stratton, Pioneer Women
Joseph Bruchac, A Boy Called Slow
Crazy Horse’s Vision
Louise Erdrich, The Birchbark House
William Durbin, My Name is America. The Journal of Sean Sullivan

Regarding the figures in the mural Meg Saligman said, “The exact identity of the people in the mural isn’t the most important thing. It is what each individual represents to the community that is important.”

The artist has also included a figure which represents the potential (17) or future of the Omaha community. This figure is not based on any one real person but is based on many different people and is the central focus of the mural.
How does this figure’s body position (gesture) suggest “potential?”
What do you think Omaha will be like 50 years from now? What is Omaha’s potential for the future?

What kind of role would you like to play in Omaha’s future?
Think about the many figures you identified representing different roles in the mural. Review your mind map of the various roles Peter Kiewit played in the community.
What roles represented occupations or jobs?
What roles were concerned with civic leadership?
What roles were connected to family?

Individual Activity: Community Roles

You are now going to research and interview and journal like Meg Saligman did when she was designing the mural Fertile Ground.
Using the research mind map template (Link) fill in the roles you would like to play when you are an adult in your community. Use pencil to fill in the circles so that you can make changes later if you like. Use the lowest mind map to brainstorm your future roles. Remember that you can have many different types of roles in your community.

Take the mind map home and interview an adult family member about the different roles that he or she plays in the community. Fill in the center mind map with their answers and fill in their name in the middle.
Ask your family to help you identify a family member from the past.

Ask several family members what they remember about the roles this person played. Complete the top mind map with information and memories about his or her roles. Are there any scrapbooks, photo albums, diaries, or artifacts that you could use in your research to learn more about this family member?
Take photographs or find photographs of yourself and your current family member to add to your research.

Reflect on the roles your family has played in the community. For example, are there some roles that have been repeated in your family. What roles do you think are the most important that your family members have played?
Revisit your own mind map and make any changes or additions you would like.
Write a short journal entry on your potential and the roles you could play to contribute to the community. Refer back to your mind map for ideas.

Individual Art Making Activity: Representing Past, Present, and Future in a Drawing

Now you have researched and collected documentation about the roles of three people in your family, past, present, and future. You are going to do what Meg Saligman did and transfer your research into visual imagery.

Like Meg Saligman you are going to represent past, present and future in a drawing. The future will be represented by your self-portrait in the foreground which will be the largest of the figures. The present will be represented in the middle by your current family member who will appear smaller because they are further from you. The past will be represented by your historic family member in the background of your picture. This will be the smallest figure because he or she is the farthest from you. Pick what you think are the most significant one or two roles for each person you will draw. Think about what kind of clothing or objects or gestures will you use to give clues about the person’s roles. Consider using photographs as inspiration for your drawings like Meg Saligman did. Think about whether you want to turn your paper in a portrait (vertical) or landscape (horizontal) orientation.

The high school student who appears as the largest figure in the center of Meg Saligman’s Common Threads said that she took her fame from being in a picture that was ‘up twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week, 365 days a year” as an omen of what she was going to become- “the beginning of what I believe I’m going to accomplish.” She is the towering figure of youth and the future in Common Threads who correlates to the figure of Potential in Fertile Ground.

Use your drawing to add yourself to the mural Fertile Ground by displaying your drawings around the poster in the classroom or hallway. You now represent the “potential” for the future of your community and what you are going to accomplish.

12” x 18” white drawing paper
colored pencils
#2 sketching pencil
Lawrence H. Larsen and Barbara J. Cottrell, The Gate City: A History of Omaha
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Assessment Strategies:

Teachers will develop age-appropriate assessment strategies based on the Goals and Outcomes of the lesson and National Standards of the unit.
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