Fifth Grade - Visual Arts - Overview - February

The Visual Arts lessons for February parallel and reinforce the History curriculum for the month. Beginning with a focus on the Hudson River and the Catskills generated by the opening of the Erie Canal, the students will look at a landscape painting by Thomas Cole in the first lesson. Since he was influential as the first in a long line of 19th-century American landscape painters, the students will identify those dramatic elements in Cole's Oxbow painting that bring out the wilderness that was at the time an American answer to Europe's ruins and record of ancient civilizations. In the second lesson, the students see the way Asher Durand memorialized Thomas Cole in the year following his death by placing him as a recognizable figure in a landscape that he inspired, a landscape that Cole had explored on foot for many years.

In the third lesson the students move westward with the general movement in the United States at the time and study a painting of the Rocky Mountains done by Albert Bierstadt who himself explored the area and took some early photographs (called stereoptic views) from which he could create landscapes later in his New York studio. Bierstadt also created some famous paintings of Yosemite and has been credited with promoting the image of manifest destiny through his art. Consequently, the students will be asked to comment on that assessment, based on what they have learned about the concept of Manifest Destiny and what they have observed in Bierstadt's landscape of the Rockies.

Finally, the students will create landscapes of their own, portraying the particular cold and somewhat monochromatic setting of February, either according to daylight or nighttime.

Note to the Teacher

This lesson, although it reinforces the History Unit on Westward Expansion, is not dependent on any particular History lesson for its understanding.


Look closely at Thomas Cole's The Oxbow.

Identify Thomas Cole's painting as a landscape.


Classroom-size map of the United States and of the world

Reproduction of Thomas Cole's The Oxbow, see Suggested Books

Suggested Books

Teacher Reference & for showing illustrations to class

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

Darst deals with Cole's The Oxbow on pp. 257-264. A full-page color reproduction of the painting is on p. 261 and a slide is included.

Hughes, Robert. American Visions: The Epic History of Art in America. New York: Knopf, 1997.

This is the newest--and one of the best--history of American art to be published, and it is written by an Australian. Hughes devotes pp. 141 to 150 to Thomas Cole; Cole's

Oxbow is reproduced on p. 145, and a beautiful full-page reproduction of Cole's Falls of Kaaterskill is on p. 144. Three more Cole oil paintings are reproduced in this section.

Wilmerding, John. Audubon, Homer, Whistler and Nineteenth-Century America. New York: McCall, 1970.

A good selection of 19th-century American paintings are reproduced here. Cole's Oxbow is on p. 32.

Teacher Background

Thomas Cole was English by birth (in 1801) and apprenticed to an engraver who cut woodblocks for printing on calico fabrics. When Thomas was 17, he emigrated with his family to the United States. His father set up a wallpaper factory in Steubenville, Ohio, and Thomas assisted him briefly, before leaving to pursue a career as a painter. Cole had begun learning about oil painting from an itinerant portrait painter who came through Ohio. When he first began painting, Cole himself was for several years an itinerant portrait painter. He then began to travel in the East where there was more sophistication and appreciation for art (in New York and Philadelphia in particular).

Cole made repeated trips up the Hudson River and into the Catskills from the time he was 25, determined to paint the beauty of the landscape he saw. He has been called the Father of the Hudson River School of painting, not because there was any school by that name, but because his work inspired a whole generation of painters who wanted to express a spiritual beauty and special wildness of the American landscape (compared with that of Europe). In fair weather, Cole made oil sketches and drawings outside and in the wilderness. In the winter he would use these sketches as the bases for the paintings he completed in his New York studio. Cole went on trips to Europe, where he spent several years studying the art in museums and galleries. Many of his landscapes were made into engravings, which helped extend his reputation. He died in 1848.


Begin the class by saying to the students: This year so far you have looked at painting and architecture in which countries? (the Renaissance in Italy, then Germany; Russia and Japan; have someone point those out on the world map) Have someone point out on the timeline the period of the Italian and then the northern European Renaissance. Then say to them: In the Fourth Grade you studied the art of the Middle Ages in Europe, and this year you have looked at quite a bit of painting from the Renaissance; next you are going to see some American painting from the 19th century. (If they have continued their timeline in History, indicate the beginning of the nineteenth century on it.)

Say to them: The last time you looked at American art (in Fourth Grade) was in America's colonial period. What century was America's colonial period? (18th century) The kind of art we saw from the colonial period was not painting, but silversmithing, quilting, printing, things that were useful to the young democracy. In fact, it took a long time for the painting in the United States to develop the skill and sophistication of European painting, and Americans who wished to become painters in the 18th century went to Europe to study. Why do you think that was so? (Accept any reasonable answers.)

Ask the students: Does anyone remember (from Second Grade) what was the first kind of painting that developed in the United States during the colonial period? (portrait painting) Why portrait painting? (no cameras, desire to immortalize wealthy citizens or important leaders) Say to them: Many of the first American painters were itinerant portrait painters. What does that mean? (Itinerant artists traveled around from place to place where wealthy people lived who could afford to pay for having portraits of family members painted.)

Next, show a reproduction of Cole's Oxbow to the class without giving them the title. Tell them something of Cole's life and the date he painted it (1836) as they are looking at the painting. Ask them to tell you what kind of painting this is (landscape). Ask them what they see in the painting. (Accept any answers that indicate the student is observing.) Tell them that the river they see is not the Hudson River, which Cole often explored on foot, but the Connecticut River. Ask them: Who can come to the map and point out the Connecticut River, which starts way up in Canada, forms the boundary between New Hampshire and Vermont, and finally empties into the Long Island Sound? (Have someone trace the course of the Connecticut River on the United States map.)

Tell the students that this is a landscape painting that Thomas Cole made of the Connecticut River near Northampton, Massachusetts, and it is usually called The Oxbow.

Ask them: Where do you think the oxbow is in this landscape? (the U-shaped bend in the river) Tell them: That kind of U-turn in a river is called an oxbow after the shape of the collars that oxen wear around their necks in order to support a yoke. (You may need to sketch a typical ox yoke with its 2 U-shaped collars for them to visualize this.) In 19th-century America, when this landscape was painted, oxen were still very common as work animals for farming.

Ask them: What did Cole do to make the oxbow so important in his painting? (put it nearly in the center of the painting, used it to join middle ground and foreground, used it as the diagonal dividing the 2 halves of the painting, used it as a division between one kind of weather and another, one set of colors and another) If the students don't mention some of these things, ask them questions about them. For example: Are the colors in the painting the same on both sides of the river? (no) What colors do you see in the foreground/left side? (deep greens and browns, dark grays) What colors on the right side? (gold, pale blue and pink, white) How would you describe the landscape on the left side of the oxbow, in the foreground? (wild, storm-ravaged tree, dense forest) What about the landscape on the other side of the oxbow? (mostly level farmland, cleared of trees, planted or cultivated, a typical fertile river valley) Continue to ask questions that will stimulate them to describe the storm on one side of the painting and the clear weather on the other. (There is a lightning bolt at the left edge of the painting and the storm clouds are obvious.)

Finally, ask whether they see any figures, or people, in the painting and, if so, where? (one seated near the umbrella, or parasol, on the rock overlooking the river in the foreground) Ask them: What do you think the umbrella is for? (protection from weather: rain or sun) Tell them this figure is probably supposed to be Thomas Cole, the painter, working on the landscape. Ask them: Why did Thomas Cole paint the figure so tiny? (to show how dramatic and enormous the landscape is, by comparison) Tell them that artists in Europe had been painting landscapes for many years, but that Thomas Cole was really the first person in America to devote himself to landscape painting and gain a reputation for doing so. Many people saw his landscapes, because engravings were made from them, and multiple prints could be made of the same landscape. This inspired young American artists of the time to paint the beautiful rivers and mountains of the United States as Americans continued to explore and settle westward.

Fifth Grade - Visual Arts - Lesson 22 - Asher Durand

Note for the Teacher

Again, this lesson is set in the context of geographical and historical information the students are studying in their History unit on Westward Expansion this month. They should be able to locate the Erie Canal and the Hudson River by the time they start this art lesson. If you have access to the collection of slides from Second Grade, the Kensett landscape View on the Hudson (#8 in the plastic sleeve) would be an asset to teaching this lesson.


Recall the artistic function of the river in Thomas Cole's The Oxbow from Lesson 21.

Recall John Kensett's View on the Hudson, from Second Grade (optional).

Look carefully at a landscape painting by Asher Durand.

Note that one of the 2 figures in Asher Durand's landscape is Thomas Cole.

Complete an activity that shows your understanding of the term kindred spirits.


Reproduction of Asher Durand's Kindred Spirits

Slide of John Kensett's View on the Hudson, Second Grade #8 (optional)

Suggested Books

Teacher Reference & for showing illustrations to class

Hughes, Robert. American Visions: The Epic History of Art in America. New York: Knopf, 1997.

A full-page color reproduction of Kindred Spirits is on p. 136.

Wilmerding, John. Audubon, Homer, Whistler and Nineteenth-Century America. New York: McCall, 1970.

A large color reproduction of Kindred Spirits is on p. 35.

Background for Teacher

Asher Brown Durand was born in New Jersey in 1796. He first learned engraving from his father, who was a silversmith and watchmaker. When he was 16, he began a 5-year apprenticeship with the engraver Peter Maverick and eventually became a partner in Maverick's Newark firm. Inspired and influenced by Thomas Cole, Durand began in his 40s to become a landscape painter. Like Cole, he traveled up the Hudson, into the Catskills and then into the Berkshires and White Mountains of New England. He also went to Europe, where he traveled with a group of American painters that included John Kensett. He was a founding member of the American Academy of Art in New York, where he gave frequent exhibitions. He died in 1886.


Begin the lesson by having the students recall the painting by Thomas Cole that they saw in the last lesson. (See Lesson 21 for the main points the students were asked to focus upon.) Remind the students that Cole was the first landscape painter of note in the United States and that his famous work The Oxbow was painted in 1846. Show the class the slide of John Kensett's View on the Hudson if it is available to you. Tell them that Kensett painted this painting in 1865, nearly 20 years after Cole's painting. Ask them: What about this painting reminds you of The Oxbow? (Accept any answer that indicates they have been observing.) Some of the many similarities:

They are both landscapes.

Both landscapes include rivers very prominently.

Colors very different on either side of the river in both: very dark on one side, light on the other.

Storm clouds appear in both.

Both are painted from the perspective of a great height, looking down on the river.

Storm-ravaged trees appear in the foreground of both.

Rivers unite foreground, middle ground, and background in both.

Some of the students who saw the Kensett landscape in 2nd Grade may recall that, as in Cole's painting, there is a tiny figure in the Kensett landscape as well, emphasizing the grandeur of the scene in comparison to the size of a human being. (In the Kensett, a girl sits reading on the dark rocks in the foreground.) Hopefully, the students will realize from this just how influential Cole was--and in particular this landscape was--for a whole generation of American artists.

Next, show the students a reproduction of Asher Durand's Kindred Spirits without telling them the name of the painting. Ask them: What kind of a painting is this? (landscape) Do you think it was painted before or after Thomas Cole's The Oxbow? (after--they should understand from what they've seen and what they've been told so far that Cole was the first to portray the American landscape this way) Say to them: In fact, Durand painted this landscape in 1849, just 3 years after Cole's Oxbow, but Cole died very suddenly in 1848, and Asher Durand painted this landscape as a tribute to Thomas Cole. Ask them: What do you notice about the 2 figures in Durand's landscape compared with the figures in The Oxbow or View on the Hudson? (quite a bit larger, more noticeable)

Say to the students: This landscape doesn't seem to depend on a large river or lots of different kinds of clouds the way the other 2 did. What do you mainly see in this landscape? (rocks of all sizes, trees, mountains, waterfall) How does the artist catch our eyes so that we are guided to move easily from the large trees in the foreground right into the background? (water in foreground connects to waterfall in middle ground, then another waterfall farther back, and finally a whole series of diagonal lines showing one after another of a series of mountains receding into the farthest background)

Ask the students: What other element of art do you see here? What about color? How would you describe Durand's use of color? (Everything is much more luminous and infused with light than in the other 2 landscapes. There is a golden quality to almost everything.) What about line? First of all, are the lines clear in this painting? (exceptionally so) Tell the students that Durand served an apprenticeship with an engraver and was a practicing engraver himself before he was inspired by the paintings of Thomas Cole to become a landscape painter. Say to them: Perhaps one of the reasons the lines in this painting are so very clear is because Durand brought his skills as an engraver to the paintings he made.

Next ask them: What about texture in this painting? Who can give a definition of texture? (the way things feel when we touch them) Does the painter show us the different textures of the things in the painting? (yes) What are some of the textures you see? (hardness and roughness of the big rocks, softness of leaves on the tree in the foreground, wet and cool of the waterfalls, soft  moist feeling of the haze over all the mountains)

Tell the students that the 2 figures in the painting are Thomas Cole and William Cullen Bryant, a famous American poet and newspaper editor of that time, close friend of Thomas Cole, and the man who delivered a poem honoring Thomas Cole at his funeral. Ask them: Can you tell which one is Thomas Cole? (the one with a sketching portfolio under his arm and the "painter's hat")


Tell the students that the name of the landscape painting they have been observing today is Kindred Spirits. Write the phrase on the board and then ask them: Who do you think the kindred spirits in this painting are? (Thomas Cole and William Cullen Bryant, the painter and the poet) Write the word kin on the board and ask whether anyone knows the meaning of the word (family, person related to another by blood or family). Tell them that we talk about a person's spirit as that most important part of him or her, something really essential about the person, such as adventurousness, or love of music, or physical grace in all their movements. Ask them to add some qualities of spirit to make sure they understand. Tell them that kindred spirits means 2 people who have that very essential part of them in perfect agreement, as if that part of them is so important, it makes them like blood relatives or part of the same family.

Next ask them: Why do you think Asher Durand portrayed these 2 men as kindred spirits (both artists, painter and poet, who loved nature and portrayed it in art; one portrayed in painting, the other in poetry). Say to them: Take a few minutes to think who might be your kindred spirit. It could be your best friend, with whom you share all your best and worst thoughts or it could be someone you've never even met but whom you admire for something special you want to develop in yourself. That could be a famous baseball player, a ballerina, a writer or painter. When you have decided who is your kindred spirit, make a drawing of the 2 of you together. You need to show the kindred spirits in whatever setting would tell us something about what you share as kindred spirits.

Pass out paper and crayons or colored pencils and give the students time to think a bit before they begin their drawings. Tell them they should title their pictures Kindred Spirits, and when everyone has finished, let each person show his or her drawing to the class and see if others can guess what makes the 2 people kindred spirits (and, in some cases, they'll be able to tell who the other person is).

Fifth Grade - Visual Arts - Lesson 23 - Albert Bierstadt

Note for the Teacher

The students should have completed their study of Manifest Destiny in American History this month before attempting this visual arts lesson. They should also be able to identify the Native American Shawnee and their geographical home.


Look carefully at Bierstadt's Rocky Mountains, Lander's Peak.

Recall the mountains in Asher Durand's Kindred Spirits.

Note the geographical features identifying the subject as the Rocky Mountains.

Note the presence of Native Americans in this landscape.

Recall and define the term Manifest Destiny (from American History).

Complete a journal prompt.


Classroom-size map of United States

Reproduction of Rocky Mountains, Landers Peak, see Suggested Books

Journals or other writing materials

Suggested Books

Teacher Reference & for showing illustrations to class

Axelrod, Alan, commentary. Songs of the Wild West. New York: Simon & Schuster, 1991.

The Metropolitan Museum of Art in association with the Buffalo Bill Historical Center created this book. It is filled with great 19th-century genre and narrative paintings. A reproduction of Bierstadt's landscape Rocky Mountains is on p. 9.

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

A full-page color reproduction of Rocky Mountains, Landers Peak is on p. 274, a slide of it is included, and the lesson on landscape painting built around it is on pp. 272-279.

Hughes, Robert. American Visions: The Epic History of Art in America. New York: Knopf, 1997.

Hughes writes about Bierstadt on pp. 194-198 as having produced the "paintings that did most to promote the image of Manifest Destiny." Rocky Mountains, Landers Peak is reproduced in color on p. 195 and 2 other stirring landscapes by Bierstadt are on pp. 196 and 197.

Wilmerding, John. Audubon, Homer, Whistler and Nineteenth-Century America. New York: McCall, 1970.

A large color reproduction of Rocky Mountains, Landers Peak is on p. 39.

Teacher Background

Albert Bierstadt was born in Germany in 1830. His family brought him as an infant to New Bedford, Massachusetts, where he was raised and educated. As a very young man he exhibited some paintings in Boston, then went back to Germany to study for several years. In 1858, having returned to America, Bierstadt made the first of several trips to the West (by train to St. Joseph, Missouri from New York, then by wagon train as part of an expedition hired to cut a route through what is now Wyoming and Utah) where he made a quantity of sketches as well as stereoptic views, which were an early form of photography. He turned these studies into large oilsin his New York City studio, and became famous and very well paid for his many paintings of the Rocky Mountains. (Bierstadt had seen the Swiss, German, and Italian Alps, which may have set off his great interest in the American Rockies.) He continued to return to Europe for travel as well as farther west in the United States, where he made some enormous paintings of the Yosemite Valley. He spent the last part of his life in New York and continued to paint until his death in 1902.

Bierstadt's paintings were very popular with wealthy New York collectors during his peak years, and he made a great deal of money from their sales. Bierstadt is apparently enjoying something of a revival at this point. It seems clear that his popularity during his lifetime was partly due to the way he managed to express in paint many of the feelings that inspired the conviction of Manifest Destiny held by so many influential people in the United States at the time.


Show the class a reproduction of the Bierstadt painting without introducing it at all except to give them the date it was painted, 1863. Ask the students what kind of a painting this is (landscape). Ask them: Do you think this is a landscape showing the rivers and trees of the area around the Hudson River and the Catskill Mountains in the East? (Have them give geographical evidence for their answers, yes or no.) When it has been established that these are the Rocky Mountains and it is a landscape of the American West, ask them to tell briefly:

why Americans were eager to go West

the various means of transportation they used

what and when the Gold Rush was

what the term Manifest Destiny meant to Americans in the 19th century

Then tell them that the artist who painted this was actually on one of those expeditions that started from Missouri and went west to what is now Wyoming and Utah to observe the landscape and make lots of sketches for paintings. (Have someone locate the route between Missouri and Wyoming, then Utah on the map and the Rocky Mountains as well.) Say to them: The artist made the actual oil paintings in a studio in New York City and sold them to wealthy New Yorkers, most of whom had never seen the dramatic landscape of the American West.

Tell the students that this landscape painting is called Rocky Mountains, Lander's Peak and was painted by a man who was born in Germany but had grown up in the United States from the time he was a baby. Tell them his name and something about his life. Have them recall the landscapes by Cole and Durand they have recently seen (or show them reproductions to remind them if you have one of the Suggested Books that contains the Cole and Durand as well as the Bierstadt). Ask them: If you were to enter either of these pictures, where would it be? (the foreground, the bottom of the painting but the top of the scene looking down on what is below) Tell them they are correct, that both Thomas Cole and Asher Durand painted their landscapes in a way that we are looking from a great height, down at what is below.

Ask them to look again at the Bierstadt and tell you where they would enter this painting (in the foreground, down in the valley, looking up to the great height of the mountains). Next ask them to tell you about the foreground of the painting. Where in the painting is the foreground? (the bottom of the painting) Ask them:

What do you see in the foreground, or bottom of the landscape? (Native American settlement, horses, tepees, Native Americans)

Can you guess from the geography what Native Americans these might be? (Shawnee)

How would you describe the colors in the foreground? (very dark, black, dark green)

Why are the colors so dark, some of the trees even in silhouette? (getting no sunlight)

What draws our eye in the middle ground of the painting? (waterfall and its reflection in the water below it)

How has Bierstadt drawn our eyes to that middle ground? (illuminated by the sunshine, all the brightest light is concentrated there)

What about the background, at the top of the painting? What do you see there? (the Rockies)

Why are the Rockies so white? (to show the great altitude; covered with ice and snow)

What time of year do you think it is then? (summer, because everything is green and the trees have all their foliage; closer mountains, in the middle ground, are green)

Are things in the background clear and detailed? (no)

Why? (They are very far away; color of the mountains blends in with the sky and clouds; mountains look hazy)

Tell the students: One of the important elements of art in this painting is the artist's use of one particular shape, over and over, in different ways. What shape is that? (triangle--in mountains, Native American dwellings, trees)

Finally, tell them: A well-known historian of American art has said that the paintings that did most to promote the image of Manifest Destiny in this country were done by Albert Bierstadt. Take out your journals and write a paragraph about how you think Bierstadt's Rocky Mountains landscape, which he completed in 1863, promoted the image of Manifest Destiny.

Write the painter's name on the board in case someone wants to include it in his or her writing, and give them 10 minutes to complete their paragraphs. If time allows, have them read their paragraphs aloud to the rest of the class.

Fifth Grade - Visual Arts - Lesson 24 - Landscape Activity

(activity adapted from Landscapes by Penny King & Clare Roundhill)


Create a winter landscape from imagination.


Tempera paints, brushes, and white paper


Colored chalk and colored construction paper


Tell the students now that they have looked carefully at three famous American landscape paintings, they are going to make landscapes of their own. Remind them about using foreground, middle ground, and background, which will help them to show depth in their landscapes.

Tell them they should concentrate on winter landscapes, either in chalk on colored construction paper or in tempera on white paper. Brainstorm with them about the kinds of colors that will make their landscapes look wintry, what kinds of skies they see in winter, and what kinds of light will make their landscape look like daytime or nighttime. In the case of the latter, only the moon and stars will light the picture, and perhaps reflection of that light on snow or ice. (If they choose to show a landscape at night, talk with them about the kind of silvery light that illuminates all the trees and buildings in winter moon and starlight.)

Remind them of the possibility of including a snow storm in their artwork, which would be more effective done on colored construction paper. They may want first to draw horizontal lines with a pencil to indicate where the middle ground and background begin, and you may want to remind them of how much smaller they will make things in the background and how much larger and clearer the figures in the foreground. They may choose to include something to unite the various planes in their picture (a road, a line of telephone poles or trees, or a river for example).

Let them choose either chalk or tempera for their landscapes, and give them a good 20 minutes to work. When all of them have finished, be sure to hang the landscapes in a place where they can have a title such as Landscapes in February.