Students will observe the image of the Death Cart, paying particular attention to the artist’s use of exaggerated features. Students will take cues from the artist and write a persuasive letter using exaggeration or hyperbole to make a point.
Intended Age GroupSecondary (grades 6-12)
Length of LessonOne 50 minute lesson
Standards AreaLanguage Arts
Students will be able to:
- describe and analyze what they see in the image of the Death Cart;
- identify the use of exaggeration in an artwork; and
- use elements of exaggeration and hyperbole to write a persuasive letter.
- Show students the image of the Death Cart. Ask students to critically examine what they see. Ask them if they are able to identify any clues as to the object’s age or culture of origin. Can they guess what it might be made of?
- Share the information from the About the Art sheet with students. Are they surprised by anything? Why or why not? Go over the “Things to Look For” information and point out details. Pay special attention to the elongated and exaggerated features of death. Ask students how this object makes them feel.
- Have students discuss why they think the artist might have used such exaggeration for a serious subject. Can students think of other ways artists or authors use exaggeration to make a point?
- Students are now going to take cues from the Death Cart to use the literary devices of exaggeration and hyperbole to create a persuasive letter. The letter should have all of the components of a letter: heading, greeting, body, closing, and signature.
- The body of the letter should contain some use of exaggeration or hyperbole to make a point. It could be a letter to a friend to try to get her to join you at a parade, a letter to your mom trying to get her to let you borrow a lot of money or to go to a big party, or a letter to your teacher trying to talk him into accepting your late homework. Anything that students can think of where they can get their point across in a big way would be a good choice for a persuasive letter.
- When everyone is finished, share letters with the class. Have the class pretend they are the person receiving the letter. Are they convinced by the argument presented in the letter? Why or why not? Did exaggeration help convince them?
- Note taking paper for each student
- Paper to write persuasive letter or word processer with letter templates
- Variety of pencils, pens, or other writing implements
- Color copies of the image for students to share, or the ability to project the image onto a wall or screen
- Copies of About the Art sheet on the Death Cart (found at the end of the lesson plan) or student access to this part of Creativity Resource online
- Language Arts
21st Century Skills
- Critical Thinking & Reasoning
- Information Literacy
About the Art
Who Made It?
Not much is known about artist José Inéz Herrera. He worked in El Rito, New Mexico, from the late 1800s to the early 1900s. He is known as either El Rito Santero or Death Cart Santero. Santeros, artists who created holy images, learned from local Pueblo Indians how to make paints from plants and minerals in the area. They combined these regional paints with imported oil paints from Mexico to create distinctive sculptures and paintings for Catholic New Mexican churches, homes, and worship spaces. This sculpture is made of wood, gesso (primer paint), silk, and animal hair. The skeletal figure represents a long religious tradition within the Catholic Church. Images of Death were associated with Holy Week rituals in Spain, Italy, Mexico, and New Mexico. In Catholic tradition, Holy Week is the week before Easter, the day Jesus rose from the dead.
What Inspired It?
The image of Death is an image from the Catholic tradition of the Passion of Christ. The Passion story includes all of the events leading up to the Crucifixion of Jesus Christ, as well as the Crucifixion itself. The skeletal figure in this cart represents Death. The artist exaggerated different parts of the figure to create a sense of drama. He gave the skeleton long, thin arms and legs and carved out deep-set, hollow eyes. The skeleton’s neck and torso are also very long, and its chin comes to a dramatic point. The large crooked teeth have been arranged into what looks like a smile.
The Saturday before Easter, carts like this one would have been pulled in a procession, symbolizing the brief period of Death’s triumph on Earth before Christ rose from the dead, escaping Death’s clutches. Sometimes a Death Cart would follow Christ on the road to Crucifixion, haunting the last stages of the Passion. During the rest of the year, these figures were used as a reminder of the inevitability of death.
In New Mexican imagery, death figures are often dressed in women’s clothing. The fact that the Spanish word muerte, or death, is feminine may account for the predominantly female character in New Mexico. Death figures are sometimes nicknamed “Doña Sebastiana” in New Mexico. The origins of this folk tradition are unknown but probably stem from a feminization of Saint Sebastian, a Christian saint who was said to have been killed by arrows.
Notice the skeleton’s deep-set eyes, large teeth, elongated torso and limbs, and oversized feet.
The skeleton wears a black woven rebozo, or shawl, that covers the head and is draped around the body.
In New Mexico, most death figures wield a bow and arrow. Images of death from other parts of the world carry a scythe, an ax, or a hatchet.
The handle would have been used to pull the cart in a Holy Week procession.