Students will make egg carton snakes as they explore the cultural meaning of snakes in Mexican culture through the two Stone Serpent Heads.
Intended Age GroupEarly childhood (ages 3-5)
Length of LessonTwo 25 minute lessons
Standards AreaVisual Arts
Students will be able to:
- identify two defining elements of the Stone Serpent Heads;
- describe two associations that snakes have in Central Mexican culture;
- create an egg carton snake; and
- actively listen to Mexican folk tales about snakes.
- Warm-up: Ask students what they know about snakes, if they are afraid of them or think they are cool and interesting. Read Uncle Snake/Tio Culebra by Matthew Gollub to the class. Ask the children what they learned about snakes in Mexican culture from the story.
- Show the Stone Serpent Heads to the class. Ask the children what they notice about the pieces: What do you think these are? What do you think these pieces were used for? What were they made of? Using the About the Art section, explain where the stone heads would have been found and the meaning of snakes in Mexican culture. Ask students to connect the Stone Serpent Heads to the story of Uncle Snake/Tio Culebra. Help them find connections. For example, the About the Art section explains that in Mesoamerica cultures, snakes’ rapid, sinuous motions liken them to both running water and lightning and that large supernatural serpent heads would have served to warn anyone who approached the entrance or structure they guarded.
- Warm-up: Have the students demonstrate with their bodies how snakes move. You may want to bring in music they can dance and move to.
- Briefly recap for the students the story of Uncle Snake, asking for their help remembering their favorite parts of the story. Make sure to remind them about the beginning of the story when the young boy entered the cave and found the snake children and how, in Mexican cultures, serpent heads were used to guard structures.
- Display the image of Stone Serpent Heads again and ask students what they remember talking about the day before.
- Tell students that today they will continue learning about the Stone Serpent Heads by making their own snakes out of egg cartons.
- Provide each student with ½ of an egg carton, a paint brush, and earth tone poster paints. Give them time to paint their snakes. Encourage them to paint their favorite designs and shapes on their snakes and even give them names.
- Once the snakes are painted, glue on the finishing touches: eyes and fangs.
- Have the students walk around the classroom and look at each others’ creation. Do the snakes look alike? What colors and designs are their favorites? What do they imagine the snakes are doing?
- Uncle Snake (or the Spanish version, Tio Culebra) by Matthew Gollub
- Poster paint in earth tone colors and paintbrushes
- Half of an egg carton for each child
- Stone spray paint (optional)
- Wiggly eyes or eyes cut from constructions paper
- Fangs made from tag board
- About the Art section on Stone Serpent Heads
- One color copy of the serpent heads for every four students, or the ability to project the image onto a wall or screen
- 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
21st Century Skills
- Critical Thinking & Reasoning
- Information Literacy
About the Art
Who Made It?
These Stone Serpent Heads were carved by an artist from central Mexico. They appear to have been created in a style similar to carvings from the ancient Mexican city of Teotihuacán [TAY-oh-TEE-wah-KAHN]. This ancient city includes numerous pyramid and temple ruins, originally built for worshiping deities and ancestors. At Teotihuacán, carved stone serpents flank the base of the main staircase of the Temple of the Feathered Serpent. They also project from the pyramid’s walls. These Stone Serpent Heads, carved from a rough volcanic stone, may have served to flank a stairway, door, or other entrance. Each serpent head has a square horizontal projection, or tenon (one is broken off), that was used to anchor it in place in its architectural or sculptural setting. The rough stone is unsuited for detailed carving and the artist may have covered the serpents with plaster and polychrome paint.
Two additional heads like these are on display at a museum in Teotenango del Valle in central Mexico. One is an exact match for one of the Denver Art Museum’s heads (the one with the intact tenon, on the right of this image). Unfortunately, the specific site from which all of the sculptures originate is unknown, as is the total number of serpent heads that originally existed.
What Inspired It?
Serpents have many symbolic qualities in Mexican culture and belief. Because snakes move on the ground and often live in holes, Mesoamerican peoples associated them with the earth. Cave or temple entrances were sometimes represented by open serpent mouths. Their swift, sinuous motions also likened them to both running water and lightning. Their rapid strikes and sometimes poisonous bites made them symbols of aggression. In many Mesoamerican cultures, the sky was conceived as a great supernatural serpent that arches above the world. Whatever their specific meaning, large supernatural serpent heads would have served as a warning to anyone who approached the entrance or structure they guarded.
The serpent heads are closely matched, but they are not identical. The crest at the top of the left serpent head is broken. Also, when compared to the serpent head on the right, the eye and head are more square, the teeth protrude more, and the lower jaw curves in a different direction.
In a style similar to other carvings from Teotihuacán, these serpent heads show a reduction of form, or basic structure, into simplified geometric shapes. Curving details soften the geometric shapes.
Notice the rough texture of the stone and the small holes that cover the surface of the carvings. These serpent heads were carved out of stone formed by a volcano.