Fourth Grade - Visual Arts - Lessons 5 & 6 - Paintings of the American Revolution

Note to the Teacher: This lesson should be divided into two and used to supplement the American History curriculum for this month. The two topics covered are The Spirit of '76 and The Battle of Trenton.


Look at paintings commemorating important events in the American Revolution.

Observe that many were painted long after the events they portray.

Hear a definition of narrative painting.

Look at a representative painting of The Spirit of '76

Look closely at Leutze's Washington Crossing the Delaware.

Comment on the portrayal of Washington in paintings (optional).


Classroom size U.S. map or map of the colonies during Revolutionary War period

Reproduction of Leutze's Washington Crossing the Delaware and of Willard's The Spirit of '76, available in nearly every standard history of the United States; also see Suggested Books

Reproductions of paintings commemorating the American Revolution (optional); archival prints, without names of artists, are fine for purposes of comparison

Suggested Books

Hirsch, E. D., Jr. ed. What Your 4th Grader Needs to Know. New York: Doubleday, 1994.

Black and white reproductions of the Leutze painting and of The Spirit of '76 on pp. 169 and 168 respectively. Reproductions of other paintings of the Revolution on pages immediately following.

Massey, Sue J. And Diane W. Darst. Learning to Look. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice Hall, 1992.

See good color reproduction of Washington Crossing the Delaware, opp. p. 236 and section about presenting the painting to students that follows.

Silverman, Jerry. Songs and Stories from the American Revolution. Brookfield, CT: The Millbrook Press, 1994.

Seventeen reproductions of paintings (in color) and engravings (black and white) commemorating famous battles of the American Revolution. Included are a painting memorializing Paul Revere on his midnight ride, p. 27. A painting of The Spirit of '76 on p. 15 was painted by Archibald M. Willard in 1876. A painting of the same subject as Leutze's Washington Crossing the Delaware, this one by Henry Mosler, painted in 1912, p. 63, would be excellent for comparison with Leutze's for this lesson. Another of the reproductions (p. 56) shows General Washington with French General Rochambeau inspecting the trenches at Yorktown. It shows quite a different Washington, was painted by Howard Pyle and appeared in Harper's Monthly in 1901.


Show the students a reproduction of The Spirit of '76. If you have the one mentioned in the Silverman book above, tell them it was painted by an American named Archibald M. Willard in 1876. Ask: Who can tell me what people mean when they talk about "the spirit of '76"? (Accept any reasonable answers.) If the students need some hints ask: What was so important that happened in American history in 1776? (The Declaration of Independence was signed.) Tell them that it wasn't until after the Revolutionary War was over that people began to look back over all that had happened and group together the patriotic feelings that went into fighting for independence into something that became known in history as "the spirit of '76." Why do you think this was painted in 1876? (100 years after the Declaration of Independence) Tell the students: During the Revolution people were too busy fighting and just surviving to make paintings, but as our government was organized and people's lives were more settled, Americans began studying to be artists. Many of them studied in Europe, where people had been artists for centuries. (Remind them of Copley and his portraits, from Lesson 3, and how he went to England to study and live out his life.) In 1876, there were all kinds of special centennial (meaning 100-year) celebrations in America, and Mr. Willard painted this painting for the centennial, to remind people of their patriotic feeling for their country. Artists--painters, writers, and composers--are especially good at doing that.

Have the students look closely at The Spirit of '76 and ask them to tell you what they see (2 men playing drums as they march; third man plays fife; flag waving in background; two men waving their hats) Tell them: This kind of a painting is sometimes called history painting or narrative painting, because it tells a story, usually a well-known story from history, and narrate is another word for tell. (Tell them to think of the narrator in a play, and remind them that Longfellow's "Paul Revere's Ride" was a narrative poem).

Ask them: How can you tell these are not British soldiers? (no regular uniforms)

Are the three men the same age? (no; one very old man, one looks like a boy, the other middle-aged)

Is that unusual? (yes; usually very young boys and very old men are not asked to fight; indicates how desperate for soldiers was the continental army)

Why are they playing instruments instead of fighting? (Fifers and drummers were a very important part of making war in those days. Music, and especially the playing of patriotic songs raised the soldiers' spirits and called them to their tasks.)

Do you know what a fife is? (a kind of simple flute, with no keys but just holes to change the column of air that changes the pitches)

How would you describe the expressions on their faces? (Accept any answer; probably determined, serious, lively would be some of the responses.)

What does the fife player wear on his head? (a bandage that tells us he's been wounded)

Tell the students you will show them another famous painting of the American Revolution that was painted in 1851. Say to them: This is another history or narrative painting. What does that mean? (painting that tells a story, usually a story from history) Say to them: I want you to look carefully at the painting and see whether you can tell what is happening, when it happened, and who is the main character in the story it tells. Then I'll tell you the story of what actually happened in history.

First of all, what time of year is it in this painting? (wintertime)

How can you tell? (all the people in the boat are bundled up; lots of ice in the water)

Tell them that it certainly was cold. It was Christmas night, December 25, 1776.

Why do you think these people are huddled in a boat instead of being home in front of the Christmas tree with their families? (fighting a war)

What war do you think this was? (American Revolution)

How can you tell? (the flag with just 13 stars)

Do you think there is just one person in charge or several? How can you tell? (one; he is standing much taller than everyone else and stands in a way that makes us know he is in charge) Have a few students volunteer to come up in front of the room and imitate the way the person in charge is standing. Be sure to include girls as well as boys.

Who do you think the man in charge is? (George Washington)

Do you think George Washington was president of the United States in this painting? (no, head of the Continental Army in the Revolution, before the United States was a country)

At this point, you may want to read about The Battle of Trenton to the class, or tell them about it: All through the month of November, 1776, Washington and his troops had been chased by the British soldiers. (Show the following part on the map.) First they were driven out of New York, then through New Jersey, and into Pennsylvania. (Show the Delaware River that forms parts of the borders of those same states, plus Delaware.) This is the river we see in Leutze's painting. Across the Delaware River, in Trenton, New Jersey, the British soldiers had settled in for the winter, along with more than 1200 Hessian mercenaries, which means they were soldiers hired for money from a country not at war (Germany) to fight for a country that was at war (England).

Washington knew he would have to do something daring and dramatic to encourage his discouraged soldiers and change the present course of the war. He decided to try to surprise the enemy, who he felt sure would be busy celebrating Christmas. He and his men quietly rowed across the Delaware River, full of ice, all during the night so that they were able to surprise the Hessians at dawn. It was a success; over 900 Hessian soldiers were captured, more than 100 were killed or seriously wounded; on the American side, only 5 or 6 soldiers were wounded and there were no losses.

Have the students look at the painting again and say to them: Leutze had to do a lot of reading about the Revolution, what we call research about the war before he began this painting. He also used many artistic techniques to convince us that this was such an important event, that Washington was a brave military leader, and that it makes us feel the cold and discouragement of the soldiers as much as Washington's determination. Ask the students:

Do you think it likely that Washington would have been standing up in the boat during the crossing? (no, it looks too windy and stormy; Washington would have lost his balance)

Why did Leutze portray Washington standing? (make him brave, important)

Do you think the ice was really as bad as it looks? (probably not; otherwise they couldn't have gotten across) Why did he paint it that way? (increases our sense of the danger and difficulty of the crossing)

What time of day is it in the painting and how can you tell? (light on far shore shows dawn just coming, so we know the crossing will be accomplished)

Remind the students that, in artwork, the use of diagonal lines helps to show movement and excitement (recall lightning as example) Ask them: Where do you see diagonals in this painting? (flagpole, oars, poles for pushing through ice, positions of bodies)

Finally, if you have a copy of Darst's Learning to Look, read the Background Information about Emmanuel Gottlieb Leutze, the painter of Washington Crossing the Delaware (pp. 236 & 237), and use it to tell the students something about Leutze. Otherwise tell them that Leutze was born in Germany in 1816. (Have someone find Germany on the map.) When Leutze was only nine years old, his family emigrated to the United States, because they wanted more political freedom.

Ask the students: What does emigrate mean? (to leave the country you were born in to go to another one) Leutze grew up in Philadelphia, where he began to paint portraits as a young man. When some important people saw how talented Luetze was as an artist, he was sent to Germany to study painting and lived there for a long time. He was in Germany when he painted the painting we're looking at now, but eventually, in 1859, he came back to the United States, where he lived until his death in 1868.

Ask the students: What do you think about the fact that this history or narrative painting of a famous victory for the Continental Army (which included a total defeat of hired German soldiers) was painted in Germany, by a man who lived about half of his life in Germany? You may want to give them five or ten minutes to write a few sentences in response.


If you have access to other paintings of the same subject (such as the one painted by Henry Mosler and reproduced on p. 63 of Songs and Stories from the American Revolution, see Suggested Books above) it would be interesting for the students to compare the way the two painters have portrayed the same event. The students might want to comment particularly on the differences in the way George Washington is portrayed as well as how dramatically the fierce and freezing cold of a night in late December is pictured.

You could also compare different versions of The Spirit of '76. For example, the reproduction in What Your Fourth Grader Needs to Know is not the same as the one in the Silverman book, although the differences are not so obvious as the two paintings of the Battle of Trenton, contrasted above.

Fourth Grade - Visual Arts - Lesson 7 - Arts of a New Nation - Silversmiths


Observe the importance of the silversmith in colonial America.

Recall the duties and contributions of craftsmen such as Paul Revere.

Observe the use of initials as silversmith's marks.

Create personal silversmithing marks to print initials on self-hardening clay.


Clay for each student

Orange sticks, blunt pencils, or other tools for carving initials into soft clay

Sketch paper for practicing pattern of initials

Suggested Books

Student Titles

Fisher, Leonard Everett. The Silversmiths. New York: Benchmark Books, 1997.

Illustrated with black and white wood engravings by the author, who first gives the history of silversmithing in colonial America, then describes the technique. A section at the end is devoted to the names and marks of some colonial American silversmiths. This section would be helpful for the students to see when doing the activity for this lesson.

Kalman, Bobbie. Colonial Crafts. New York: Crabtree, 1992.

Apprenticeship, shoemakers, cabinetmakers, coopers and wheelwrights, gun and blacksmiths, silversmith, papermaker, printer & bookbinder, milliner and wigmaker, building trades, and home industries in Colonial America. Illustrated with color photographs in period clothing. Also pictures & explains basic tools for each of the crafts. Excellent for reading aloud to 4th graders.

Teacher Reference

Stevens, Bernardine S. Colonial American Craftspeople. New York: Franklin Watts, 1993.

Much more thoroughgoing and detailed than Kalman book above. Illustrations are historical, archival black and white reproductions of engravings & drawings of the period (a bit like the ones in the Joy Hakim History of US books--very good for understanding the period). Excellent chapters on apprentices and metalworkers are especially good background for this lesson. Includes useful Glossary and Bibliography. Gives the best sense so far of all the handiwork/useful arts operating in colonial America.


Start the lesson by asking the students to tell you what counterfeit money is. Ask them: When you play Monopoly, is the money you use counterfeit money? (no) Why not? (The money is only to play with; not made to trick anyone into believing it can be used for buying and selling things like food and clothing in the real world.)

Tell the students that during the colonial period no one trusted paper money, because it was so easy to counterfeit. The only money that the colonists really trusted was made of silver, and silver of a certain kind, which was 925 parts silver and 75 parts copper. This mixture was what was used in British coins and was the best standard for coins. The amount of silver in these coins was carefully regulated in England, where the coins were made. The colonists were not allowed to make their own coins. As more and more people began to work and prosper in the colonies, instead of simply trading goods, they began to exchange money for them, but England

allowed just a certain amount of coins to come to the colonies. So one problem the colonists had was to acquire British coins.

The other problem they had was where to save the coins they received for the work they produced. Ask the students: Where do people usually save their money? (in banks) That's right, in banks. Perhaps, when people are young, they save in what we call piggy banks or other small, decorative banks at home; but when they grow up, people save their money in large banks that can protect the money and make sure it doesn't get lost. But there were no banks in the colonies.

That means there was no way of protecting the silver coins from being stolen; and no one could identify the real owner of the coins if they were lost or stolen, because all the silver coins looked alike. So those people who were becoming successful at their trades in the colonies had two problems about money. What were the two problems? (getting money of good value and saving the money)

The colonists figured out a good solution to the second problem. They went to men trained as silversmiths with any extra silver they had--coins, plates, utensils, it didn't matter--and had the silversmiths melt it all down and turn it into silver utensils that could be beautifully decorated and engraved with the silversmith's mark and the name of the owner as well, so that it couldn't be lost or stolen.

Ask the students: What was the name of the famous colonial silversmith you learned about who warned the minutemen of the coming of the British at the beginning of the Revolution? (Paul Revere) Now you can better understand why he was such an important citizen--he was an artist and craftsman who helped people with the problem of storing their savings.

If you have books about colonial silversmiths, show the students photographs and reproductions of the tools and methods used by colonial silversmiths, and tell how metals were heated on forges and hammered into the desired shapes for plates, candlesticks, bowls, and other pieces that were useful as well as beautiful. Show them pictures of examples of the finished products and tell them that many beautiful examples are now at the Baltimore Museum of Art, where they can go with their families and see them.

Next, tell the students how the colonists solved the other problem: how to get more silver coins of sterling quality (sterling quality meant that combination of 925 parts silver and 75 parts copper). Say to them: Long before the Revolution started the colonists began to resent the fact that it was against the law for them to mint (make) their own coins, since when they asked England for more silver money, they were refused. When they continued to ask, England simply didn't give them an answer. Finally, in Boston, in the year 1652, some people set up an official mint for making sterling coins. Who can figure out how long before the Declaration of Independence that was? (1776-1652 = 124 years)

Give the students time to do the subtraction and congratulate those who got the answer. Finally ask them: Do you think that minting their own money was an act of independence? Why or why not? Allow everyone to participate in the discussion before going on to the activity.


Show the students examples of colonial silversmiths' marks. If you do not have pictures of them (see the Fisher book, above), tell them that most of the silversmiths used their initials rather than their names, and often they used some simple decoration around the initials. It could be an outlined shape to contain the initials, something that pleased the artisan. Say to the students: Some silversmiths even made monograms of their initials. Who can tell what a monogram is? (combining the initials of a person's name into a design) Show some examples. (Some students may want to try combining initials on the board, where you and other students can make suggestions.)

Give the students five or ten minutes to practice sketching their initials or a monogram of their initials. Circulate around the room to give help and encouragement. Next, pass out clay to each student, large enough so they can comfortably carve their "silversmith's mark" onto it. Give them each tools for carving and tell them that next time they will have a chance to make a bowl or cup in which to carve their "silversmith's marks."

Fourth Grade - Visual Arts - Lesson 8 - Arts of a New Nation - Quilting


Observe the skills and materials involved in quiltmaking.

Place quiltmaking in context of colonial art and craft.

Look at contemporary example of quilting in work of Faith Ringgold.

Activity with pattern as one of the artistic skills in quiltmaking (group project).


Examples of American quilts from various periods, see Suggested Books below

Examples of quilts made by Faith Ringgold, see Suggested Books below

Pieces of used clothing, large piece for backing, needles and thread for Activity 1

Colored construction paper, crayons, markers, large piece of tag board, and glue for Activity 2

6" squares of fabric, wide bias tape, needles and thread for Activity 3

Suggested Books

ABC Quilts. Kids Making Quilts for Kids. Gualala, CA: The Quilt Digest Press, 1992.

This paperback book was produced by an organization devoted to producing quilts for the more than 100,000 children in the United States "born infected with the HIV/AIDS virus or born with birth defects caused by alcohol, cocaine, or other harmful drugs" (p. 5). Whether or not you feel comfortable discussing these issues with your class, the quilts pictured in the book are very attractive, the directions for quiltmaking are clear, and it is encouraging to the students to see young people at work on quilts.

Bial, Raymond. With Needle and Thread: A Book About Quilts. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1996.

Filled with striking color photographs of quilts, this book gives a good sense of the history of the tradition in this country. Good for reading aloud and for sharing pictures with class.

Hallock, Anita and Betsy Hallock Heath. Fast Patch Kids' Quilts. Radnor, PA: Chilton, 1996.

A how-to book for parents and children. Good reference for those students especially interested in quiltmaking who would like to continue at home. Full size patterns are included for a variety of figures especially designed to appeal to youngsters.

Hopkinson, Deborah. Sweet Clara and the Freedom Quilt. New York: Knopf, 1993.

Memorable paintings by James Ransome bring to life this story of the importance of making a patchwork quilt to a heroic journey that followed the Underground Railroad.

Paul, Ann Whitford. Eight Hands Round: A Patchwork Alphabet. New York: HarperCollins, 1991.

A wonderful book for reading aloud to the class, 26 patchwork patterns are illustrated by Jeanette Winter and tied to brief stories about how people lived in colonial America.

________. The Seasons Sewn: A Year in Patchwork. New York: Harcourt Brace, 1996.

Similar to the book above, but this time the text is tied to life according to the seasons in colonial times. Illustrations are very effective colored scratchboards by Michael McCurdy.

*Turner, Robyn Montana. Faith Ringgold. Boston: Little, Brown, 1993.

Another in the series called Portraits of Women Artists for Children, this is a good biography of Ringgold with lots of black and white photographs from her growing-up years plus large colored reproductions of her artwork. Her use of fabric and influence of the traditions of quilting and storytelling among African American women are detailed. Good for reading aloud selective sections so students will understand why Ringgold calls herself "a painter who works in the quilt medium" (p.19).

*Any of the books suggested above, or any other (adult or juvenile) book with good photographs of quilts would be suitable for showing examples to the students, but the Ringgold biography is particularly important to teaching this lesson.

Background for the Teacher

An exhibition of quilts held at the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York City in 1971 is largely responsible for the strong revival in quiltmaking in the last 25 years. It also caused people to look more carefully at handmade quilts as an American art form, rather than simply as women's handiwork. Since that time, many beautiful books have appeared on the subject, both for adults and for children. Some are tied to American history--especially to the colonial period, the period of the Civil War, and the period of the Depression. Quiltmaking is a good way to bring certain realities of colonial life such as spinning, weaving, and needlework of women and girls to students. An appreciation for quilting is also an ideal way for students to increase their awareness of the interaction of color, line, and shape in patterns.

Three possibilities are given for the activity that follows. The one you choose to do in your classroom will depend both on the availability of materials and the cutting/stitching skills of your students.


Show the students a wide variety of colored illustrations of American quilts, both patchwork and applique. Tell them the difference between the two: They each have three layers: a front, a back and some kind of soft stuffing in between. In a patchwork quilt, the front is made of many pieces of material sewn together. An applique has the pieces stitched down on a single piece of cloth. (Be sure the students realize that--although all the colorful pieces and designs they make when put together are what catch our eyes first, the actual quilting are the hundreds of tiny, tiny stitches that form straight or curved lines and also attach the three layers of the quilt together.)

Ask them: Why do you think patchwork quilts were made so often in American colonial homes? (You might want to make a list on the board of the categories of answers you get from the students. There might be comments about the difficulty of keeping warm without central heating that would go in one category; some about bringing color into the homes in another category; and those about availability of scraps of fabric, cotton and wool, sheepgrowing, spinning, carding and weaving cloth in another. Use these comments to generate others in the same three categories.)

Tell the students that whereas boys growing up in colonial America might be apprenticed to learn a trade--that of silversmith, leatherworker, cooper, etc. girls were taught all kinds of needlework, beginning sometimes as early as 4 or 5 years old. Records show that when colonial women married, they were supposed bring with them thirteen quilts that they had made. At first quilts were made of bits and pieces of saved wool and any other fabrics left over as clothing became too worn to mend and continue to wear; consequently they were not very colorful. Once the colonists began planting and harvesting large quantities of flax, there was both linen and linsey-woolsey (a mixture of wool from sheep and linen from the flax plant) new cloth could be woven and died to use for quilts.

In 1793 Eli Whitney invented the cotton gin, and a whole textile industry began in the United States. This made cotton cloth much more available and less expensive. The cotton fabrics were made in many colors, and quiltmaking became even more common. Usually there was at least one quilt for every bed in the house, and, as Americans moved westward, the precious quilts would go too, for comfort and warmth and sometimes to protect the few precious, breakable pieces of pottery or glass that the family owned. Quilting also provided a way for pioneering women to get together with others. A woman could piece together the front of her quilt in the evenings at home, join front to back with batting in between, and then take it to a "quilting bee," where women from a whole area would gather to do the actual quilting--the running stitches in patterns that put the finishing touches on the quilt and also served to hold the stuffing or batting of the quilt in place. Having many women work together on this part of the quilt made it more enjoyable and made the work go more quickly.

Show the students examples of American quilts from different periods, and encourage them to identify the elements of art that are utilized--usually color, line, and shape are the prominent elements in a quilt--and how they have been used. Let them see how stars, hexagons, squares, and circles fit into one another. Point out the patterns made with colors (positive space) and then the patterns made in the areas in between (negative space).

Finally, if at all possible, show them some quilts of Faith Ringgold and either read or tell them a little about Ringgold's life. Ask the students: What do you see that is different about Faith Ringgold's quilts from the others you have looked at? (Probably the writing on the story quilt is something they will not have seen on other quilts. Her copying of Matisse cutouts in her Chapel at Vence quilt and her representation of Van Gogh in the Sunflower quilt are ways of quiltmaking they will not have seen before.) Tell them how Ringgold has been able to combine two different traditions important to African American families, and especially to women, by combining the story-telling with the quilting. If you have access to Sweet Clara and the Freedom Quilt, this would be a good time to read it to the class.


Patchwork Crazy Quilt

Show the class some examples of crazy quilts, and tell them that is the kind of quilt they are going to make as a class project. Have each student bring in a piece of fabric from a discarded piece of clothing. It could be from jeans, a T-shirt or socks, a torn or frayed necktie, handkerchief, or pocket, and it could be of any shape. Provide needle and thread so that each student can turn under the edges of his or her patch with as small an edge as possible all the way around the periphery of the piece. Use a piece of used denim, canvas, or other sturdy fabric for a backing, and let the students arrange their pieces on the backing as a class effort. When the pieces are arranged in a pleasing design, stitch them together from the top using bright embroidery thread so that all the joinings show. If you enjoy stitchery, you might embroider the date of the quilt in the same thread that was used for joining the crazy quilt patches.

Paper Patchwork Quilt

Give each student a 6" X 6" square of colored construction paper. Give them crayons and/or markers and have each one decorate the square with a design or picture that represents him- or herself. Arrange the squares on a large piece of tag board in such a way as to leave space for borders on the outside and between rows of the squares. Using a ruler or yardstick and pencil, help the students to place the squares in straight lines by marking the places for the squares. Have each student glue his or her square in the proper place. To finish the paper quilt, glue the strips used for borders at the edges and between rows of squares.

Fabric Patchwork Quilt

Using a plain, light-colored cotton fabric such as muslin, cut squares as in the paper quilt above, and have the students do their drawings with fabric markers. Use canvas, denim, or other sturdy fabric for backing, and use fabric of a contrasting color for borders and edging between the squares. If you use a wide bias tape for the borders and edging, the edges will be automatically turned under. Again, use glue to attach the squares. (Squares do not have to have their edges hemmed, because of the strips that border them.)