Putting It All Together
The following activities will help students understand the role of Daniel Chester French and other public sculptors in society and to understand why their work was so highly valued in turn-of-the-20th-century America.
Activity 1: Reading a Sculpture
Ask each student to select one of the works shown in Photos 4, 5, or 6-9, examine it carefully, and make a list of the symbols and other details that they identify. These might include facial expressions; positions of arms, legs, or heads; clothing, objects, or animals included; writing; etc. Have students share their lists. Then ask them to write a short paper in which they explain what message the sculpture they selected is trying to convey and how it communicates that message.
The Minute Man was one of the most popular sculptures of the 19th century. The Abraham Lincoln is one of the most famous of all 20th-century sculptures. Ask the students to identify qualities that might contribute to that popularity. Ask them what values these sculptures reflect and why they were and/or are important to the American public. Discuss. Which sculpture do they like best? Why?
Some works of art reflect the society in which they were created. Others push traditional limits, both by exploring new modes and techniques of expression and by challenging the artistic and intellectual status quo. Ask students which of these categories they think applies to French's sculptures.
Activity 2: Sculpture as Work
Explain to students that Thomas Edison once said that invention was "10 percent inspiration and 90 percent perspiration." Ask students whether they think this saying applies to artistic work, based on what they have learned about Daniel Chester French. Next, have students work in groups to identify ways that French stimulated his imagination, referring back to the readings and visual evidence. Then ask them to list all of the kinds of work French needed to do to complete a sculpture and put it in place, again using the readings.
Invite an art teacher or an artist from the community to meet with the class. Have the students interview the guest to learn about the kinds of skills and work activity required for artists in different media. Ask the students to decide whether Edison's comment appears to apply to most artists.
Ask them to speculate on why most people think "inspiration" is more important than "perspiration" in the creation of works of art. Do they agree or disagree with that position?
Activity 3: Public Art in the Community
Ask students to choose an example of three-dimensional art in their own community to study. Tell them to look for ornamentation of buildings, sculptures in parks, squares, or other public spaces, war memorials, and carvings found in cemeteries. Have them do research to discover when the work was created. If the work is a sculpture, see if they can find information about the sculptor, the donor, and the event or person commemorated. Then have students photograph or make a sketch of the work to show to the class. Have students explain to the class what they think its "message" was intended to be and how it conveys that message. Have them also describe what elements they found that seem similar to those found in French's work.