Thursday, August 21, 2008

Uncle Andy's

I've been teaching art for over 20 years. I've always found art history to be fascinating. My students don't always agree with me, but I consider it a challenge to find ways to show them great art in a way that will catch their interest and spark their imagination. When I first started teaching, I I looked for artist biographies that were written for children that I could share with my students. They were few and far between. Now there are tons of them! The best one I've ever seen is a story about Andy Warhol called Uncle Andy's. Probably one reason it's so good is that it's written by Andy Warhol's nephew, James Warhola. James (an accomplished artist in his own right) writes about what it was like to go visit his famous uncle when he was a young boy. It's so neat to see this artist through a child's eyes. I read it to my fourth graders and they love it. Then we begin a unit of instruction learning about Pop Art, Warhol, and printmaking processes.

Well, here's where this post gets exciting! I asked my fourth graders if they'd like to write to the author and let him know how much we liked his book. They were excited to do that and we brainstormed together about what we wanted to put in the letter. I wrote their ideas on the board and they took turns writing on a single piece of paper. They also filled an envelope with drawings they made inspired by the book and some of their linoleum prints.

Mr. Warhola wrote back! My students won't know this until school starts, but he wrote a very lengthy hand-written letter answering our questions and telling us even more about his own art and writing and more about Andy Warhol. And that's not all -- Mr. Warhola sent us a signed poster and some original drawings -- working sketches for his next book. I can't wait to get these in a frame and hang them in the school.

One of the things kids find amazing about Andy Warhol when we read Uncle Andy's is that the artist had 26 cats all named Sam! James' next book is going to be about those cats! The working sketches he gave us are of a couple of those Sams. Uncle Andy's Cats will be coming out next summer. I can't wait!

One of our academic standards for art in PA is to teach kids the difference between original art and reproductions. Young kids sometimes are confused by this.

Mr. Wales: "This is a Picasso painting --"
First grader: (interupting) "Wow! How did you get ahold of it?"
Mr. Wales: "Well, actually it's a poster of the painting that he did."
First grader: "Well did he make it or not?"

And on and on it goes.

These gifts from Mr. Warhola will help teach that standard! I also like to stress to kids that artists don't just sit down and create masterpieces out of the blue. A lot of planning goes into creating a work of art, including sketching. Trial and error, making plans and refining. These little sketches are a glimpse into his process and something an actual original drawing the artist made.

We're starting our own gallery at Lynch-Bustin Elementary School! Last year we received a similar gift from artist James Gurney.


James Gurney said...

It's teachers like you who keep picture books and their makers alive for young people. I hope you and your students have a great year, and maybe one day James and I will be reading the books they write.

Anonymous said...

Wow! We are so lucky to Andy Wales as a teacher in our school. I can't wait to see the sketches and watch the art gallery expand.

Paul Bozzo said...

Really neat!

jdhaines said...

That is awsome that he sent you some drawings and a poster. I'll bet the kids will be so excited that the next book is going to about the cats since they had a strong interest in that aspect of Andy Warhol's life. Congrats on another successful project and response.

Unknown said...

Wow! That's awesome! I love using that book in my class, too. Have you seen some of my pop art lessons?

Marek Bennett said...

Andy --

This is indeed exciting.

Here in NH, the Currier Museum will host a Warhol exhibit starting in September. I'll send this post on to the education department!

-- Marek