Inside: Explore Cows Skull with Calico Roses by Georgia O’Keefe with your students and have them create a work of art from the inspiration!
Amanda Koonlaba from Party in the Art Room is back for another post! Check out this art project inspired by Georgia O’Keefe’s Cow’s Skull with Calico Roses.
Cow’s Skull with Calico Roses
Georgia O’Keefe was an American artist born in Wisconsin. Perhaps she is most known for her large paintings of flower blossoms, but my favorite work of hers is Cow’s Skull with Calico Roses
I was fortunate to see this work at the Art Institute of Chicago a couple of years ago. I’d always found it visually appealing, but after my visit I had a few other understandings that make me love this work even more.
(Cindy breaking in here! I totally agree with Amanda. I used to find O’Keefe’s artwork to not be incredibly exciting until I visited the George O’Keefe Museum in Santa Fe. Her artwork is so different and so much better in person!)
First, this work was inspired by a drought in the American Southwest that caused the death of many animals. O’Keefe witnessed the drought and was intrigued by the animal carcuses that littered the landscape. She even shipped some of the bones back to her studio in New York. She knew she would want to paint images of them one day.
Here is what she had to say about this:
“To me they are as beautiful as anything I know…the bones seem to cut sharply to the center of something that is keenly alive on the desert even tho’ it is vast and empty and untouchable.” (Source: AIC)
Interestingly, she painted this skull, in which she saw life, with artificial flowers. This is a nod to the way graves were decorated in New Mexico.
So, after admiring the work simply for the visual appeal, I was fascinated to learn about the drought. Also, I’d never known the flowers were artificial. Learning about the symbolism has made me appreciate it on a much greater level.
Creating with Students
I created a lesson for my elementary students based on this painting. This is a lesson that can be completed in about two 45-50 minute sessions but is packed with skills.
Here’s what we did:
- The students viewed Cow’s Skull with Calico Roses and read the statement from O’Keefe about the bones. They had to discuss how the quote related to the work, make assumptions about the symbolism, and relate it to their own experiences.
- The students viewed several line drawings of cow skulls and drew their own versions. They practice drawing for about 20 minutes total.
- Once they had a drawing they liked, they traced the lines with paint and a paintbrush.
- Then, they cut out the skull.
- They tore brown paper for the background and assembled it with the skull.
- Finally, they chose to make their own flowers or use artificial flowers and glued everything to black paper.
I’ve struggled for years figuring out how to teach this work of art and have my students create something inspired by it. I never could come up with a project that was appropriate for my students’ ability levels AND engaging AND visually appealing.
That is, I couldn’t seem to do it until I saw the work in person.
(Cindy here again! Want to see more art in person? Come to Europe with me this summer! Sign up by March 18.)
Want More? Let’s Chat!
Have you seen this work at the AIC? What did you think? How do you teach it? Do you have lessons you use with your students? I’d love to hear from you!
Oh! While we are talking about O’Keefe, let me make sure you know about this O’Keefe Art & Roll game from Party in the Art Room. It makes the perfect substitute lesson and is also great for mini-lessons! And don’t forget to check out the Party in the Art Room blog!
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