Students will analyze the use of allegory in The Things I Have to Do to Maintain Myself. They will then write a poem reflecting the theme of the piece.
Intended Age GroupSecondary (grades 6-12)
Length of LessonOne 50 minute lesson
Standards AreaLanguage Arts
Students will be able to:
- identify The Things I Have to Do to Maintain Myself;
- define allegory;
- create allegories for a variety of prompts;
- feel comfortable taking creative risks to write a poem; and
- provide constructive feedback when peer editing.
- Preparation: Read the About the Art section for The Things I Have to Do to Maintain Myself.
- Warm-up: Introduce or review what allegories are. Have students read one of Aesop’s fables or another allegorical story or poem (you could use a book or a website). Discuss the allegories mentioned.
- Have students sketch allegorical images for a variety of prompts (e.g., loneliness, fear, joy).
- Have students read the About the Art section. Lead the class in a discussion of how the piece reflects the title literally. The class will then explore how the title and sculpture actually serve as an allegory of caring for self. The fixing of the "ear" is not meant to be taken literally but is meant to serve as an allegory for more broadly understood types of care for self. For students, they might engage in activities that relax them, restore their energy, or reduce their stress.
- Instruct students to write a poem rooted in allegory for caring for oneself. Tell them that they can include a sketch if they’d like. Ask them how else the concept could be represented.
- Give students time to peer critique and edit their first drafts in groups of 3–4. They can revise their poems based on recommendations.
- Call on volunteers to share their poems and sketches with the class.
- Pencil or pen and paper for each student
- Copies of the About the Art section on The Things I Have to Do to Maintain Myself (found at the end of this lesson plan) or student access to this part of Creativity Resource online
- Color copies of The Things I Have to Do to Maintain Myself for students to share, or the ability to project the image onto a wall or screen
- Ability to project on a screen or share with students resources on Aesop’s fables or other allegorical stories or poems. You could use the book Aesop’s fables, or try a website such as this one.
- Visual Arts
- Observe and Learn to Comprehend
- Language Arts
- Oral Expression and Listening
- Writing and Composition
21st Century Skills
- Critical Thinking & Reasoning
- Information Literacy
About the Art
Who Made It?
Roxanne Swentzell was born in Taos, New Mexico in 1962. Her mother was a potter, writer, and scholar from Santa Clara Pueblo, and her father was a New Jersey native of German descent who was a philosophy professor in Santa Fe. Growing up in Santa Fe, in a household that was filled with clay and artwork, Roxanne took to art-making at an early age. As a child, she struggled to express herself verbally. In order to let others know how she was feeling, she would sculpt small figures that represented her emotions.
Roxanne attributes much of her success to guidance from her family, particularly her mother, Rina, and her uncle, Michael Naranjo, a blind sculptor. From 1978-1980, before graduating high school, she attended the Institute of American Indian Arts.
Today, she spends much of her time at Tower Studio, twelve miles north of Santa Fe. Continuing her interests in nature and preserving the earth, Swentzell founded the Flowering Tree Permaculture Institute, “a research and education organization that relates to permaculture…a way of looking at the world based on the laws of nature.”
Swentzell believes that it is extremely important for her work to have a direct connection with reality. Her art must be a full expression of herself and her experiences and observations of life. She says, “I learned to listen to myself and not be so influenced by what other people wanted me to make. I am going to present the world through my eyes—and not as somebody told me I was supposed to.” She also aims to communicate with all people through her artwork—both Native and non-Native—about the things we share as humans. “With my sculptures I try to reach people’s emotions so they can remember themselves,” says Swentzell.
What Inspired It?
This sculpture is a representation of a clown, called a kosha in Tewa [TAY-wah], the language of Santa Clara Pueblo. In the Pueblo creation story, the kosha were the first to emerge onto the surface of the earth, climbing up from the underworld and out of the womb of Mother Earth. As they surfaced, each was facing one of the four cardinal directions. The people of the earth followed, dispersing to all parts of the world and becoming the different races. Kosha continue to play a part in Santa Clara ceremonies and stories. One of their main roles is to teach lessons about life. Kosha teach by imitating human behaviors; it is then up to us to recognize when those behaviors are flawed.
This kosha sits deep in concentration, mending his broken ear. With this sculpture, Swentzell references the idea that humans are in a constant state of development. An individual makes choices as he/she creates him/herself. Swentzell is also asking us to consider the importance of a seemingly mundane act. “I like to make the mundane significant, because that’s the way we go throughout days. This piece is about all the little things we do to make things possible. It’s an appreciation of something that’s not always acknowledged,” says Swentzell.
The black and white stripes on the body of the kosha represent balance, one of the important life lessons that are taught by kosha.
The kosha is deep in concentration. Notice how he carefully threads the needle with an extra-thick piece of yarn. His eyes are focused, his lips are pursed, and even his toes are curled tightly together.
Swentzell makes her sculptures out of clay, using the techniques of a potter. Unlike other potters in her family, she uses purchased clay, in part due to the large amounts that she uses. She uses coils to create the body and makes cuts where she will add limbs, which are made with coils as well. The body and limbs are hollow, while the toes and fingers are solid. She sculpts the face. The figure must dry for about two weeks before it is ready to be fired in a kiln.