Chain Letters

Lesson Plan

Lesson

Students will create a jointly constructed story linked together by a narrative chain.

Intended Age Group

Secondary (grades 6-12)

Length of Lesson

Two 50 minute lessons

Standards Area

Language Arts

Objectives

Students will be able to:

  • demonstrate a use of strategies to write in a creative and reflective manner;
  • provide a written link in a narrative that follows and reflects on what is experienced, observed, or resolved over the course of the writing; and
  • work well with others in a group project.

Lesson

  1. Show students Rain Has No Father? and ask them to describe what they see. What colors and shapes do they notice first? Ask if they can identify what materials were used to make the object? What clues can they use to try to figure this out?
  2. After exploring the work visually, share with students the information from the About the Art section. Mention the found objects that El Anatsui uses. Share his quote, “Art grows out of each particular situation and I believe that artists are better off working with whatever their environment throws up.” Discuss with students what this might mean about people working within their given environment.
  3. Share with students the collaborative efforts that went into physically constructing this textile-like wall sculpture. Assistants sewed the pieces together with copper wires according to a design. El Anatsui has many assistants that help him and he acknowledges that the “variety which is needed at this scale comes from the style and the feel of each individual hand.”
  4. Students will create a jointly constructed story with each person writing an individual story as a part of a narrative chain. One student will hand their story to the next person, who will begin their story by linking it to the previous one through concepts, ideas, characters, or plot. Using proper form, technique, and grammatical conventions, students will write about themselves and how they relate to or feel in the environment where they live.
  5. Students can use pen and paper, and hand the story to the next person when done. If possible, you can allow students to access Google docs, where they can work together and edit the document in real time.

Day 2

  1. Have students share and display their stories and begin to identify linking elements between them. The stories could be displayed as a written mural or could be performed as spoken word poetry for an audience.

Optional: This lesson could be integrated with Visual Arts by turning each of the individual stories into a visual and putting each visual together to make a mural.

Materials

  • Paper and writing implements
  • If available, access to Google docs so that the story can be shared, written, and edited online
  • About the Art section on Rain Has No Father? (included with the lesson plan) or student access to this part of Creativity Resource online
  • Color copies of Rain Has No Father? for students to share, or the ability to project the image onto a wall or screen

Standards

CO Standards

  • Social Studies
    • History
      • Analyze the concepts of continuity and change and effect
    • Geography
      • Understand geographic variables and how they affect people
  • Visual Arts
    • Relate and Connect to Transfer
    • Envision and Critique to Reflect
  • Language Arts
    • Oral Expression and Listening
    • Research and Reasoning
    • Writing and Composition
    • Reading for All Purposes

21st Century Skills

  • Collaboration
  • Critical Thinking & Reasoning
  • Information Literacy
  • Invention
  • Self-Direction

About the Art

Rain Has No Father?

Rain Has No Father?

2008

El Anatsui

Who Made It?

El Anatsui [ah-nat-SOO-ee] was born 1944 in Anyako, Ghana—the youngest, he says, of his father’s 32 children. His mother died when he was quite young, and he was raised by an uncle in a Presbyterian mission. As was common in pre-Independent Ghana, school curriculum, and art school curriculum in particular, were almost entirely Western. Anatsui says this left him feeling restless and rootless and he began looking for ‘‘something that had more relationship to me, as someone growing up in an African country.’’

Anatsui is known for creating art out of found materials such as driftwood, clay, paper, and liquor-bottle tops. He draws on a combination of African aesthetic traditions as well as Western Art history. Plans for this specific work began sometime in 2006, when Curator of Native Arts Nancy Blomberg, along with then Curator of African Art Moyo Okediji, commissioned El Anatsui to create something specifically for the Denver Art Museum. To create his “metal cloths,” Anatsui enlists the help of skilled assistants who work with him in his studio cutting, flattening, and shaping metal liquor bottle tops into design blocks conceived by the artist. Anatsui carefully arranges the different elements on the floor of his studio and, once he is satisfied with the design, his assistants use copper wire to stitch the individual pieces together. Anatsui acknowledges the input of his assistants, noting that the “variety which is needed at this scale comes from the style and the feel of each individual hand.”

Anatsui is currently a Professor of Sculpture at the University of Nigeria, Nsukka, where he has lectured since 1975. His work appears in numerous international and American art museums, including The British Museum in London, Le Centre Pompidou in Paris, and the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York.

What Inspired It?

"Art grows out of each particular situation and I believe that artists are better off working with whatever their environment throws up.” - El Anatsui

While out one day, Anatsui came across a bag of liquor bottle tops that were sitting in a bush. He took them back to his studio thinking that he might be able to use them at some point. “I kept the bottle caps in the studio for several months until the idea eventually came to me that by stitching them together I could get them to articulate some statement,” says Anatsui. As the metal pieces were stitched together, he noticed that his artworks began to resemble fabric cloths. “Incidentally too, the colours of the caps seemed to replicate those of traditional kente cloths” (a West African weaving tradition).

While it would be easy to suggest that Anatsui is recycling materials in his artworks, he doesn’t see it that way. Rather, he describes his use of found materials as a “transformation” of those materials. For Anatsui, the inclusion of bottle caps suggests a link between European and African histories: “To me, the bottle tops encapsulate the essence of the alcoholic drinks which were brought to Africa by Europeans as trade items at the time of the earliest contact between the two peoples.”

When creating Rain Has No Father?, El Anatsui was inspired by the grandeur of the Rocky Mountains. The silver cloth is perforated with slashing vertical elements symbolizing “the rain which gives way to life forms.” The three multicolored blocks spread across the top are formed from hundreds of pieces of metal carefully made into tiny open squares—perhaps suggesting clouds holding masses of rain droplets about to be released.

Details

Bottle Caps
Bottle Caps

Each bottle top, once flattened, is about 4 inches long and 1 inch wide. Gina Laurin, DAM conservator, who worked on repairing the artwork before it was hung, estimates that 9,000 bottle tops were used to make this particular piece. Given the number of artworks Anatsui has created in the last several years, it is currently hard to find used tops. He now goes straight to the distillery to acquire the bottle caps, making newer shinier works.

Copper Wire
Copper Wire

Anatsui uses copper wire to hold each piece of aluminum in place. “The process of stitching, especially the repetitive aspect, slows down action and I believe makes thinking deeper,” says Anatsui. “It’s like the effect of a good mantra on the mind.”

Folds
Folds

The folds are created in the act of hanging the piece. Anatsui prefers museums to install the metal cloths and create folds. Rain Has no Father? arrived at the museum folded up inside a box. Curator Nancy Blomberg began experimenting with small prototypes—digital images on canvas, 8 ½ x 11 inches—to figure out how the piece would be hung in the gallery. While this was helpful, it was during installation that final decisions on how to best display the work of art were made. The curatorial, installation, and conservation staffs helped to devise a system of pulleys that allowed the DAM to hang the piece safely, as well as manipulate it to create the necessary folds. Installation crews spent a day hanging the work.

Shadow
Shadow

The surface of this piece is not solid. Light passes through, creating a shadow on the back wall.

Funding for lesson plans provided by a grant from the Morgridge Family Foundation. Additional funding provided by the William Randolph Hearst Endowment for Education Programs, and Xcel Energy Foundation. We thank our colleagues at the University of Denver Morgridge College of Education.