More than Transportation: The Art Car

Lesson Plan


Students will recognize the significance of Horse Outfit to the Crow people beyond utility. Students will then create a modern form of transportation for themselves with decoration significant to their own contemporary lives.

Intended Age Group

Secondary (grades 6-12)

Length of Lesson

Two 50 minute lessons

Standards Area

Visual Arts


Students will be able to:

  • articulate the value of the characteristics and expressive features of art and design in diverse and disparate works of art;
  • discuss and interpret various types of visual art and place contemporary art culture in a broader, historical context;
  • identify and create a design that represents personal, family, or cultural meaning;
  • research styles, types, makes, and models of vehicles;
  • discuss and debate what moves an object from utilitarian to artwork; and
  • communicate and defend reasons for opinions about the intentions of a work of art.


Day 1

  1. Show students the image of the Horse Outfit created by people of the Crow tribe. Share information from the About the Art section. Mention how trade of horses with the Spaniards altered the way the Crow were able to travel—they were able to go greater distances for hunting and carry heavier loads. Once the horses became more and more appreciated, they moved beyond being just a utilitarian item; they became a means to show personal and group expression. They were decorated in a way that we can identify the culture of the people. Notice the isosceles triangles that were a hallmark of the Crow style, the outlines in white rather than black, and the design elements that indicate the gender of the horse's rider.
  2. Consider how we use transportation today. What does it say about us? Have our vehicles moved beyond serving only a utilitarian purpose? Speaking in huge generalizations, think of someone who drives a small hybrid car versus someone who drives a large urban assault vehicle. Or consider someone who drives a new luxury car versus someone who drives a decommissioned old hearse.
  3. Ask students: Have you ever seen an art car? If so, how was it decorated? What did it say about the owner?
  4. If possible, show students images of art cars. Some images can be found at the website of the annual Houston Art Car Parade.
  5. Just like the creators of the Horse Outfit used symbols and designs that reflected who they were, students will plan the decoration of an art car that reflects their own lives and personalities.

Day 2

  1. Ask students to choose a make, model, and style of car that will reflect their personality.
  2. Have students draw a silhouette of that car on a piece of 9×12-inch paper. Using markers or colored pencils, students should draw symbols and designs to decorate their art car.
  3. Instruct students to write an artist’s statement on the back of the paper explaining their choice of car and symbolic design.


  • About the Art section on Horse Outfit (included with the lesson plan) or student access to this part of Creativity Resource online
  • Color copies of Horse Outfit for students to share or the ability to project the image onto a wall or screen
  • Access to the Internet or library for research
  • Access to pictures from the website for the Houston Art Car Parade
  • Drawing paper
  • Pencils, color pencils, and other drawing media as appropriate
  • Writing implements or word processor to type artists’ statements about art car creations


CO Standards

  • Social Studies
    • History
      • Understand the concept that the power of ideas is significant throughout history
      • Analyze the concepts of continuity and change and effect
      • Analyze the concept of complexity, unity and diversity
  • Visual Arts
    • Invent and Discover to Create
    • Observe and Learn to Comprehend
    • 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

Horse Outfit

Horse Outfit


Artist not known, Crow Tribe

Who Made It?

These elaborate horse trappings were decorated by an unknown Crow woman. The Crow are an American Indian tribe who originally lived on the Great Plains, an area roughly between the Rocky Mountains and the Missouri River, from Texas up to southern Canada. Beadwork is one of the dominant Crow decorative art forms. Various design elements distinguish the Crow style of the late 1800s from designs used by other tribes. During this time, Crow beadworkers used mostly geometric forms including rectangles, diamonds, and triangles in their art. The isosceles triangle (with two sides equal in length) is a hallmark of their style. This shape appears either alone or as two triangles joined at the tip, forming a shape that looks like an hourglass. Beadworkers used a wide range of colors and often outlined solid shapes with beads of a contrasting color. The woman (or women) who decorated these horse trappings, for example, outlined the shapes with white beads. Black was very rarely used in Crow beadwork.

What Inspired It?

Horses were re-introduced in North America by the Spanish in the 1500s, and the Crow began acquiring horses through trade in the 1700s. The arrival of horses allowed nomadic tribes to carry heavier loads and travel greater distances, covering more ground when they hunted. As horses became increasingly appreciated, functional horse trappings, like saddles and bridles, evolved into beautifully decorated costumes for show at parades and celebrations. Horses were outfitted in costumes like these only on special occasions. Though the Crow developed their own style for decorating horse trappings, ornamental gear continued to bear some resemblance to Spanish trappings from the 1600s.

Beads were also acquired through trade with Europeans beginning in the early 1700s. Crow women used the beads to decorate everything from clothing to horse trappings, and they became well-known for their skillful beadwork. They developed their own unique style, which changed over the years from more geometric patterns (like those seen on this horse costume) to floral-based designs. Beading revolutionized American Indian art, allowing for tremendous variation in design and color.



The first glass beads came all the way from Venice and Czechoslovakia, where they were manufactured. Beadwork was popular among the Crow, and women excelled at creating beautiful, colorful patterns.

Isosceles Triangle
Isosceles Triangle

The isosceles triangle is one of the hallmarks of Crow beadwork from the late 1800s and can be found throughout the entire horse outfit. White beads outline the triangles, separating the various bright colors that were used. Notice how the triangles appear in many different sizes.


When the Crow traded for horses with the Spanish, they sometimes received horse equipment as well. The form of this saddle was inspired by the construction of Spanish saddles.

Rawhide Containers
Rawhide Containers

The Crow painting style of the 1700s greatly influenced their geometric beadwork. The painted designs on the two cylindrical containers that hang off of the saddle are made up of isosceles triangles, similar to patterns in the beadwork on other parts of the outfit. The triangles are outlined by areas of the surface that were left unpainted. These containers were used to store and carry special possessions. The long fringes attached to one of the containers added to its attractiveness when it was suspended from a saddle, as seen here.


The ropes are made of out leather and bison hair and are used for securing loads onto pack horses. Notice the decorative ball-shapes at each end of the rope.


Once the horse was saddled and the rider was in position, only the ornamental bands on this saddle blanket would be visible.


The Crow used woolen trade cloth extensively, both for practical purposes and as a design element. Pieces of cloth were often integrated into beadwork designs to save time in dealing with large areas and to provide variation in color and pattern.


The bridle is covered in more geometric beading. Attached to the bridle is a circular piece that lies on the forehead of the horse. This piece is also decorated with beads and is edged with stiff horsehair. A triangular section made of tassels falls above the horse’s nostrils. The metal fringe that hangs down below the horse’s mouth shows a Spanish influence.


The forked pommel tells us that this is a woman’s saddle.


Women sometimes added ornamental flaps to the outside of their stirrups, while men’s stirrups were typically not decorated—more evidence that this horse gear was made for a woman.

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.