The following is a guest post written by Samantha Melvin. She teaches elementary art and music integrating across the curriculum in Burnet, Texas.
Good Things Come in Small Packages. It is such fun to come across a book that our elementary-aged students can read that have ideas for visual arts lessons built right into the story. The Sixty-Eight Rooms by Marianne Malone does just that. It is a fantasy tale, perfect for 2nd-6th graders, about the Thorne Rooms at the Art Institute of Chicago.
In our story, Jack and Ruthie go on a field trip to the Art Institute of Chicago and see the Thorne Rooms for the first time. Jack discovers a key while on a separate special tour with one of the museum guards. The key leads Jack and Ruthie to discovering much more about the sixty-eight rooms! These exquisite rooms, whose design represents the style of a different era and place, were commissioned by Narcissa Niblack Thorne. The artists and master craftsmen created each using only the finest materials. They were built using 1 inch to 1 foot scale. Even the doorknobs turn, and the desk drawers open, truly representing design in miniature. Our characters discover that the key is really a magic key, which transforms the person holding it into a miniature version of him or herself. We live vicariously as they walk into these rooms and step back in time to pre-revolutionary France, or to late seventeenth century America. By connecting with artworks mentioned in the story including Washington Crossing the Delaware by Emanuel Leutze, we can demonstrate the link between history and art. In this case, Jack and Ruthie realize that they landed in France prior to its revolution, that had been partially inspired by the American’s fight for freedom from British rule.
Not all of us can travel to the Art Institute of Chicago to visit this wonderful collection. However there are other museums around the country that also have a connection to Thorne’s incredible legacy. The Knoxville Museum of Art, in Knoxville, TN, holds a collection of Thorne Rooms. These represent some of the earliest of her works. The Mini-Time Machine Museum of Miniatures in Tucson, AZ is a museum dedicated to miniatures. In its fantastic collection, one can find the Kupjack Georgian Dining Room, an example of work by one of Thorne’s primary artists, Eugene Kupjack. The Phoenix Art Museum also holds 20 examples of the Thorne Rooms.
Make curricular connections:
Drawing & Math
Connect this wonderful fantasy to the creativity of our students by asking them to design their own “Contemporary Interior” where they design a room, using 1 inch to 1 foot scale, representing their place and time. Either using one-point perspective in drawing, or photomontage from magazines, the design of their own space would be a fascinating view of our 21st Century world from a child’s point of view.
Sculptural Paper Folding & Math
Jack and Ruthie, our adventurous 6th grade characters, go to school together in a Chicago neighborhood. In the opening chapter, Jack shows a bento box that he brought for lunch to school. Ruthie had never seen anything like it, and your students may not have either! Integrate a wonderful paper folding lesson, that implements measurement and folding for creating the bento box, and using paper folding and sculpture for the food. There is a wonderful example in the Thorne Rooms collection of Japanese architecture and design known as the Japanese Traditional Interior that would connect wonderfully with this lesson.
The Sixty-Eight Rooms is a wonderful addition to any book or art club looking to connect literature with art. The magical tale would be a great read-aloud in the art classroom, leading to specific art projects that make children think about their enviroments and design.
Special Thanks to the Mini-Time Machine Museum of Miniatures in Tucson, AZ for permission to publish the photographs of works in their collection, both taken by Balfour Walker. The museum can be found on Twitter at @tucsonmuseum Thanks to Nancy Walker for sharing her Bento Box lesson as well. Photos of teacher samples are from the Center for Educator Development in Fine Arts Summit XI Elementary Sessions hosted by Samantha Melvin and Nancy Walkup.