Medgar Evers Elementary SchoolMedgar Evers Elementary School
9811 S. Lowe Street

Participating teachers:
Chris Davis, Music
Karen Krenn, Visual Art

Context  |  Process  |  Reflections


KAREN KRENN, visual art

The broad purpose of this project was to integrate art into other curricula such as science, social studies, and language arts by having students analyze and describe the influence of the Chicago River on the local community and the changes that have occurred throughout Chicago’s history. The specific purpose in the visual arts classroom was both to introduce students to the Chicago River and develop a visual story about the river that reflected the style of Cubism and Fantasy as seen in Marc Chagall’s “I and the Village.” I wanted students to reflect on what they know about the Chicago River and create an oil pastel drawing in the style of Chagall called, “I and the River.”

In their social studies and music classrooms the students researched the history of Chicago, the Chicago River, and Chicago musicians. Then, in visual art, the students made lists of what they had learned in their other classes and what they wanted to know. They were introduced to Marc Chagall’s “I and the Village” with written material, worksheets, and a print of the work. Students analyzed and described the work, noting how Chagall combined Cubism and Fantasy.

While listening to Beethoven’s 6th symphony, students created sketches of sensory images they would experience in and around the river. Using their sketches, students created an oil pastel “resist”—a technique in which pastel drawings are painted over with watercolors, creating a unique texture where the oil resists the water wash—of their impression of Chicago River in the style of Chagall’s “I and the Village.” Some students also decided to apply a blue wash over the oil pastels to represent the river.

As a first-time participant in the development of an arts-integrated unit, I found that the integration of other subjects into my art lesson was much harder than I expected, but also that there is a need for more integrated curriculum. I particularly enjoyed using Beethoven’s 6th Symphony. While listening the students tried very hard to interpret and analyze the music, and I do think this helped them envision the river.

The professional development workshops at Symphony Center helped me to introduce music into my visual art class. I learned a lot about the piece and how to work with students. The workshops were also very helpful in making me aware of the leaning needs of our students when it came to understanding Chicago’s history and landscape and the integral part the Chicago River has played in the culture of the city. For example, the majority of the students knew that the river was dyed for St. Patrick’s Day, but that was the extent of their knowledge. In order to help them with background knowledge, next time I do this project I might give students more information, or have them do a research project and maybe take a field trip to the river before creating river-related artwork.