The Shadow Spirit Sidekick

Lesson Plan


After analyzing the significance of the artistic features of the Figure Seated on a Bench, students will design and create a comic strip based around the ideas represented in the figure.

Intended Age Group

Secondary (grades 6-12)

Length of Lesson

One 45 minute lesson

Standards Area

Visual Arts


Students will be able to

  • identify artistic features of the Figure Seated on a Bench;
  • create a creature based on a key concept represented in the figure; and
  • design a comic strip.


  1. Warm-up: Invite the students to reminisce, sharing stories and memories, about their first pet and ask them questions such as: What did your pet like to do? Was your pet fun or boring? What kinds of adventures did you have with your pet? What is the most memorable characteristic of your pet? If students have never had a pet, have them imagine what it would be like to have their dream pet.
  2. Display the Figure Seated on a Bench for the students to see. Ask them to name different artistic features of the figure: the geometric designs on the headdress and shield, the exaggerated calves, the bench he is seated on, etc. Point out the creature with a spiral tail on the figure’s back. What do the students think this creature is? What is it doing on the figure’s back? Why did the artist put it there?
  3. Using the About the Art section, explain that there are many interpretations for this design element. The lizard-like creature could be a costume element, represent a shamanic alter ego, or represent a spirit-companion that supports and strengthens the man.
  4. Have the students imagine they have a creature, real or imaginary, that follows them like a shadow and provides support or strength. The shadow creatures could bestow upon the student some sort of power, provide encouragement to accomplish a difficult task, or keep the student safe. Some examples to share: Lassie the dog from the TV series Lassie who is his owners most trusted and beloved friend; Harry Potter’s Patronus Charm from JK Rowling’s novel Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban that protects Harry from evil; or Dory from Walt Disney and Pixar’s movie Finding Nemo who helps a dad find his lost son.
  5. After the students have decided on a creature, have them draw an initial sketch that illustrates how the creature will help, protect, and support them.
  6. Distribute drawing paper and colored pencils/markers. Invite the students to expand on their initial sketches by writing and illustrating a comic strip that documents an adventure the two will embark on.


  • Drawing paper and colored markers/pencils for creating comic strips
  • About the Art section on Figure Seated on a Bench
  • One color copy of the figure for every four students, or the ability to project the image onto a wall or screen


CO Standards

  • 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
    • Writing and Composition
    • Reading for All Purposes

21st Century Skills

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

About the Art

Figure Seated on a Bench

Figure Seated on a Bench

Before A.D. 1500


Who Made It?

Little is known about the peoples of the Cauca River Valley in west-central Colombia who produced Popayán [po-pah-YAHN] style gold and ceramics. The dates of the Popayán style, reminiscent of several surrounding artistic traditions, are yet to be determined. Though we do not have a lot of information about it, this piece is the most impressive known example of Popayán ceramic art. Two similar vessels are known, but this is the only complete example. The artist modeled this figure out of buff-colored, gritty clay, which was then fired to a light grey/tan.

What Inspired It?

The original function of this object is unclear, but it seems likely that this figure once held very precious or sacred materials of some kind. The figure’s headdress is removable, and the body serves as a vessel. Bones or cremated human remains were often stored in human effigy containers, but these are usually much larger. Stools or benches were important symbols of rank in ancient Colombia, Panama, and Costa Rica. The figure’s commanding pose, with his right hand to his chest, his headdress, shield, and jewelry all indicate a person of power, wealth, and importance.



The figure wears a necklace, probably made to represent gold, around his neck. The hole on the figure’s nose most likely held a golden nose ornament.

Geometric Designs
Geometric Designs

Geometric patterning decorates both the headdress and the shield. The artist may have carved the designs on the headdress to indicate feathers.

Exaggerated Features
Exaggerated Features

Exaggerated and abstracted features draw attention to various parts of the figure’s body. The face has puffy, slit-like eyes, often called coffee bean eyes. The feet are huge, with toenails carved into the tips of splayed toes.

Swollen Legs
Swollen Legs

The swollen calves reflect the use of ligatures (tight bands) that are tied below the knee and at the ankle to strengthen muscles. This practice is still used by some Amazonian peoples today.

Creature with the Spiral Tail
Creature with the Spiral Tail

A lizard-like creature with a long, curled tail is perched on the back of the figure. This creature is either a costume element or a representation of a shamanic alter ego. Shamans are religious practitioners who interact with the spirit world.

Lack of Clothes
Lack of Clothes

The figure wears numerous decorative items but no clothing. The figure’s genitals are exposed as a symbol of generative power as was common in the art of Colombia, the Amazon basin, and southern Central America.

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.