Thursday, November 4, 2010

Native American Parfleche

Fourth Graders at Currier Memorial School put the finishing touches on these beautiful raw hide bags today.  The bags were made in two art classes.  We used geometric designs to decorate the bags.  The designs are inspired by bags used by Cheyenne, Crow, and Lakota tribes of the American Plains.  These tribes were primarily nomadic.  They traveled by horse with the changing seasons as they followed the great herds across the American Plains.  Because they moved frequently, they needed bags like these to pack food, clothing, and other important items. These bags were typically made of raw hide, which can be made more quickly and more easily than buckskin.  Rawhide is a tough material and the bags are called Parfleches.  The word parfleche comes from the French words "pare" and "fleche" and means...deflects arrows.  Raw hide is tough enough to deflect an arrow and also used to make shields.
To make the parfleche we first looked at artifacts on this website.
We looked closely at the designs, focusing on the lines, shapes, color, proportion, and balance.  To create the design students were given three cardboard templates.  They used a 6"X6" square to outline the perimeter of the design.  They were also given a 3"X6" and a 2"x6"  template to help them sub-divide their square or to use as the wished as a straight edge.
After a rough draft was approved they began their final design on a piece of crumpled brown paper.  Students used crayons or colored pencils to add color to their designs.  We tried to remain true to traditional colors:  red, white, green, yellow and blue.  Students were asked to color heavily and completely.  They were instructed to continue their design onto the flap.  Then holes were punched and the sides were laced up.
This project is one part of a larger classroom based unit of study.  To see the parfleches and other Native American works in progress please visit the fourth grade classroom.


  1. so cool are these.

    I am still struggling with considering changing to a more TAB choice based style of teaching but then how do you do these whole group lessons and get in the art history etc.

  2. rooms that take a purely center-based approach, still include whole-class instruction. I think the key is to be able to communicate clear criteria for the lesson, before students begin work. Just as in other art rooms, your project criteria should be posted, so that students can successfully demonstrate those concepts through their work. The difference is that students then choose how they can best demonstrate their understanding. In this lesson, I was interested in knowing that students could create a balanced geometric design, and that they could create a piece of art inspired by the work we viewed. Kids could demonstrate this understanding in a variety of ways (by creating a parfleche, or working on a weaving or beading loom, or creating a painting on a theme with a geometric border, etc.)
    Remember that all your lessons do not have to be center-based, especially at first. You may find it easier to include some very simple, easy to manage choice-based centers. Start with one third grade class for example, and take it very slowly so that you, and your students, don't become over whelmed. This will give you time to work out a system that works for you and for your space. Save yourself a big headache and take the time to model the procedures you want kids to use. Once the first group is trained in this approach, begin with a second.
    Does that help?

  3. I just wanted to add...that this project was a whole class project. I love the choice based approach, probably for the same reasons you do. But don't feel I have to be 100% faithful to either approach.
    With little kids the choices don't need to be elaborate. Try a drawing center, a building center (play dough), and a printing center (stamps and crayons). Keep the centers interesting by varying the materials. The kids will let you know by their choices when when it's time to mix it up a little. Adding something simple (like plastic flowers) to the play dough station takes kids in a whole new direction. Then replace play dough with blocks or legos. Adding cardboard to the building blocks will take kids in another interesting direction.
    Connect the ideas generated in the centers to interesting fine art examples.