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Paper Mache African Gourde Project

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Paper Mache African Gourds- Grade Level 5 - 8 - By: Christy Hartman



Instructional Objective:

The student will understand the visual arts in relation to history and culture.
The students will design and build their own 3-dimensional gourd utilizing cardboard cone armatures and paper mache´.

Curricular Integration:

We have become a multi-cultural society and anytime that we can introduce our students to global cultures we are certainly enhancing their curriculum. This project has opportunities for cross
curricular integration in a variety of ways including Language Arts, Social Studies, and even Science.

Materials and Equipment:

Cardboard Cone Armatures (available from art supply catalogues)
Paper Mache Art Paste
Newspaper (cut the newspaper pages in fourths or even in half depending upon the sizes of the gourds to be built)
Brown Craft Paper cut into strips
Black, Red, Yellow, and Blue Tempera Paints
Gold and Brown Gloss Tempera
Natural Sponges
Masking Tape
Natural Seeds and Beans (available from art supply catalogues)

Resource Materials:

African Designs from Traditional Sources by Geoffrey Williams, Dover Publications
The Complete Book of Gourd Craft by Ginger Summit and Jim Widess, Lark Publications

Dynasty/FM Brush - Eye of the Tiger Brushes:

Oval: #0, #4, #6
Flats: #6, #10, #12, 3/4”
Liner: #1

Project Requirements:

  1. Design a 3-dimensional gourd based on actual gourds.
  2. Build the gourd using a cardboard cone armature, newspaper, masking tape, and paper
  3. Design an African inspired geometric and nature based pattern for the exterior of the gourd and paint this with tempera paints.
  4. If the student wishes they may add seeds to the design for added interest.

Project Introduction:

  1. Introduce the project by discussing gourds, their purpose, historical significance, how they are grown, dried, and how gourds have been found archeologically throughout the world. The book The Complete Book of Gourd Craft by Ginger Summit and Jim Widess is an excellent resource that covers the stated topics for the introduction of this project.
  2. Discuss the different types of gourds with the students by discussing the different characteristics and the uses of each type: basket, bottle, dipper, trough, etc. Descriptions and pictures of each of these can be found in the book The Complete Book of Gourd Craft.
  3. I have also purchased numerous gourds from a variety of sources that I share with my students so that they can see and hold the actual gourds. To be able to see and handle the actual gourds certainly helps the students conceptualize the project requirements. I have South American, African, as well as unpainted gourds that are available from local gourd growers or can be found on the internet. Crizmac, www.crizmac.com, is a wonderful source for multi-cultural products and materials and is where I have purchased many of the gourds. Fortunately gourds are very durable and survive the rigors of children handling them.
  4. One particular technique that I found interesting during my research into gourd art was an ancient technique that was used in a variety of cultures and in particular African cultures was Pyrography. This is an engraving method using super heated knives to decorate the exterior of the gourds. Due to safety reasons we were not able to use this process instead we used black tempera paint to mimic the engraving process.

Art Production:

  1. The students were instructed to design their gourds on paper including the shape of the gourd and decorative design as a plan for building and painting their gourds. The students were required to design a pattern based on traditional African designs, we studied a variety of resources including African Designs from Traditional Sources by Geoffrey Williams, to help them develop a geometric pattern using line and repetitive patterns that would also incorporate nature into the design.
  2. Utilizing a cardboard cone armature helped give the gourd a solid skeleton and foundation. I wanted these gourds to sit upright and to also show the variety of shapes that are available, because the cones come in different heights we were able to build many of the different shapes that we had studied. I had precut all of the newspaper by ripping each page into fourths so that the students had an appropriately sized piece of newspaper to work with. We then rolled the edges of the newspaper around the outside edge until we had a pillowed piece and secured to the cone armature with masking tape.

    The students continued working around the cone layering the pillowed newspaper onto the cone and taping them into place developing rather quickly the puffy shape of the gourd. If the students wanted to make bottle gourds we used smaller pieces of newspaper wrapping masking tape around the area that was meant to be indented on the gourd.  Some students even added additional height to their gourd by wrapping their newspaper into a long cylindrical shape and taping it to the top of the cone as if it had a long neck.
  3.  It was now time to paper mache´ the gourds, I chose to use brown craft paper and art paste to complete this process. The brown craft paper is sturdier than newsprint and took less coats to complete as well as provided a more organic look to the gourd, I also prefer to use art paste as it keeps for a very long time in the made up form and creates a very smooth surface to paint on. I stressed the importance of smoothing the paper mache´ onto the surface and securing it to the inside bottom of the cone for an even look to the piece.
  4. Using gold metallic gloss tempera and brown gloss tempera double load the sponge and pounce onto the outside of the gourd. This changed the look of the exterior of the gourd from the flat brown craft paper to a rich subtle texture which contrasted nicely with the black tempera paint added in the next step.
  5. After the gourds were dry we sketched the preplanned design onto the outside of the gourd and began painting the lines and patterns with small round brushes or script liners using black tempera and adding color only when we thought that it was necessary for interest and contrast. The color that the students were allowed to use was limited to the primary colors and White in an attempt to stay true to the ancient technique. After the painting process was complete the students were allowed to glue beans and seeds to their gourds as well.

 Evaluation:  Teacher observation and record keeping.

 © Christy Hartman 2007