Students will “fly” outdoors like the birds depicted in the Bird and Cornstalk Rug, collect nest-making materials, and report back to the group what they observed during their “flight.”
Intended Age GroupEarly childhood (ages 3-5)
Length of LessonOne 45 minute lesson
Standards AreaLanguage Arts
Students will be able to:
- use their imagination and creativity to play a game;
- share their observations with the class; and
- follow instructions.
- Have the children sit in a circle. Hand out or display the image of the Bird and Cornstalk Rug. Prompt a conversation about the birds and other parts of what is depicted in the rug. Share information on the rug from the “Details” tab of the About the Art Sheet. Point out the cornstalks in the classroom. Talk about the similar plant details in the rug and how they mimic the real stalks.
- Spend about five minutes sharing with the class about the Navajo Nation. Talk about the history of Navajo rugs as found in the About the Art section.
- Explain that the children are going to play a game. They will go outside and imagine they are birds. They will fly from place to place, marked with cornstalks (designate places prior to the lesson by placing cornstalks around the playground or grassy field). Explain that they need to pay special attention to the colors, shapes, or nature they see as they fly. Give them instructions to bring back a handful of items that a bird would use to make its nest (e.g. grass, twigs, etc).
- Once outside, give instructions on how the game will work. Point out some areas marked with cornstalks and, if it’s safe, they may discover more on their own. Let the students fly around for 10-15 minutes. Encourage observation and nest material collection.
- Next, have children “land” in their nests (sitting in a circle).
- Go around the circle and have each child share what they observed while flying. What did they collect? Why did they choose these items for their nest?
- Explain how Ason Yellowhair was influenced by things around her when she made Bird and Cornstalk Rug. Tell children it is their turn to design their own rug. Have them think back to what they saw while they were flying and use those observations in their rug designs. Finish the lesson with children illustrating a picture of their rug.
- Access to playground and grassy area
- Props: Cornstalks (available at grocery stores in the fall or at craft stores at other times of the year) to place around the room
- Individual pieces of cardboard or a portable hard surface for drawing on
- Paper and colored pencils
- About the Art section on Bird and Cornstalk Rug (included with the lesson plan)
- Color copies of the Bird and Cornstalk Rug for students to share, or the ability to project the image onto a wall or screen
- Visual Arts
- Observe and Learn to Comprehend
- Language Arts
- Oral Expression and Listening
21st Century Skills
- Critical Thinking & Reasoning
- Information Literacy
About the Art
Who Made It?
Ason Yellowhair is an accomplished weaver who lives on the Navajo Nation, an area that covers over 27,000 square miles of land, extending into Utah, New Mexico, and Arizona. In 2002, she was presented with a Lifetime Achievement Award from the Arizona State Museum at the University of Arizona. Yellowhair began weaving banded geometric designs and moved to pictorial rugs in the 1950s, eventually settling on her present style in the 1970s. She describes weaving as very hard work: “You perspire a lot. A man might work hard chopping wood, his shirt hanging out or maybe no shirt at all. It’s the same with weaving—very hard work.” Yellowhair has shared her skill with her family, teaching most of her daughters to weave when they were children, and continuing a tradition that has been passed down from one generation to the next.
What Inspired It?
This type of Navajo weaving is referred to as a pictorial rug. Although these rugs became common in the late 1800s, they were not sold as “art” until the 1900s. They are now sold to tourists, collectors, and museums. Yellowhair’s Bird and Cornstalk Rug is part of the DAM’s Gloria Ross Collection—a collection of Navajo rugs from the late 1900s.
The history of Navajo weaving is one of change and constant innovation. Navajos learned loom weaving sometime in the 1600s from neighboring Pueblo peoples. The art form was further enhanced by the introduction of sheep by the Spanish. Trade, tourism, and the art market have been an inspiration and influence for artists, and have made a major impact on Navajo weaving.
This rug follows the unique Yellowhair family style, which is characterized by a large horizontal format, simple borders, and several rows of plants and birds running perpendicular to the weaving direction.
Unidentified plant stalks are arranged in horizontal bands across the width of the rug. They are adorned with red, white, orange, and beige flowers. According to her daughter, Yellowhair based the stylized plants on designs she saw on Wrigley’s Spearmint Chewing Gum wrappers.
Although birds are significant in traditional Navajo religion, Yellowhair says her birds carry no specific sacred meaning, but “express a positive and happy outlook on life.”
The border is made up of a geometric pattern that is repeated all the way around the edge of the rug, framing the picture in the center.
Notice the uneven coloration of the grey background. The wool used to make this rug would have come from multiple batches that would have been individually dyed, resulting in slight variations in color between batches.