The Unexpected Mummy: combining creative writing with art history

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I’m continuing to lead a series of workshops through CWC called Picture Perfect: Exploring Creative Writing through the Lens of Art History.

We started with prehistoric cave art and moved on to ancient Egyptian art. The students built miniature mummies out of clay. Then, after letting them dry for a week, they “embalmed” them with plaster and decorated them with paint and jewels.

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These props inspired the students to write short stories about characters who die unexpectedly and go through the mummification process. The hitch was that they had to write the story from the first person point of view, which meant describing what it feels like to die and enter the Egyptian afterlife.

Here are the final version of their props. In addition to many human mummies, we ended up with a falcon and a couple of cats. Some students chose to do mummies with luxurious decoration, while others took a more humble approach. It all depended on the character situation in the individual story.

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The Prehistoric Painter

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I’m currently teaching a series of workshops through CWC called Picture Perfect: Exploring Creative Writing through the Lens of Art History.

I’ve delivered this program several times before, but it continues to evolve. This time around, I was given more weeks than usual to deliver workshop series, so I ended up adding some units. Despite this, I still feel like we are zooming through history and hardly doing anything justice.

For our first project, we explored the very first recorded art that we know of: cave paintings. After viewing images and videos of some of the famous sites from around the world, I introduced a project in which the students could create cave-painting style images on rocks. Afterwards, they were assigned to write a short story about a character who is the first member of a society to paint on a cave wall.

Doing the activity helped them put their minds in the right framework. One of the interesting things about this course has been trying to put everything into context for the young students. For example, they simply weren’t aware that prehistoric and ancient artists (not to mention Medieval ones) had a limited color palette available to them.

Here are some photos of our project in progress . . .

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Snakes, crocodiles, and cats — mummified!

This fall, one of the classes I’m teaching for CWC is called “Picture Perfect,” a program in which the kids take inspiration from art history and write a series of pieces.

Our first project is to explore ancient Egypt and make mummies. Long ago, I was in Egypt and explored many temples and ancient sites up and down the Nile, so this period of history is quite dear to me. I was able to tell the students a lot of personal stories about my time in Egypt.

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While I was in Egypt, I saw countless mummies: cats, crocs . . . you name it. So, as a fun inspiration for our first story in the class, we’re building mummies.

We started by making the clay figures and then let them dry for a week. Next, we began “embalming” them.

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This time, we tried something new: adding spices as part of the embalming process.

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I kind of like how it leaves some of them looking a little weathered.

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Next week, we’ll add some adornments by adding some metallic paint.

For now, the students are working on stories that tell how their characters came to an end (in most cases, an untimely one) and then entered the Egyptian afterlife. They also are working with some Egyptian hieroglyphics to create cartouches for their characters. (A cartouche is a particular shape in Egyptian symbology that signifies the name of a pharaoh.)

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