Lesson Plans MMoCA Collects

Joseph Raffael: Mosaic Alligator

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Joseph Raffael, Lizard, 1971, oil on canvas.
sample image
Sample image
Sample image
Sample image

Developed by Susan Sewell, Columbus School District, Columbus, Wisconsin; art instruction by Bonnie Halvorson, Columbus Elementary School

Summary of Activity

Students will combine art and science as they create an alligator, interpreting its physical adaptations through the use of clay mosaic. Joseph Raffael's work will be used to inspire students and encourage their use of creativity.


Students will learn about the adaptations of alligators.

Students will be able to discuss how adaptations make the alligator able to survive in the wetland environment.

Students will use actual photographs of alligators to create an impressive, life-like work of art.

Students will create the habitat as a part of the background of the alligator mosaic.

Students will recognize that Joseph Raffael's work demonstrates his love of nature and his desire to create life-like art.


Discuss Joseph Raffael's art with students. Share examples of his work. The piece Lizard will be used to demonstrate Raffael's love of nature. Students will study the adaptations of alligators and will work to create one.


  1. Using pictures and books, introduce the alligator as an example of an animal well adapted to its environment.
  2. Challenge students to list adaptations that they notice.
  3. Study Raffael's painting Lizard as an example of artwork that shows an animal in a life-like art form.
  4. Give each student a small hunk of clay with instructions to roll it into a ball the size of a golf ball and flatten it by stepping on it.
  5. Instruct each student to roll out another piece of clay to be used for shaping the alligator's teeth.
  6. Place the flattened clay balls and the teeth into a kiln to be fired.
  7. Instruct students to use various shades of green, brown, and yellow paint to paint their fired, flattened circles; teeth may be left unpainted.
  8. Draw an alligator in profile onto a 2 x 8-foot piece of plywood.
  9. Instruct students to paint the background, using brown paint for the earth and blue paint for the sky. Students may sprinkle soil on the brown paint while it is still wet to give added texture and a sense of realism.
  10. When the paint is dry, ask students to glue raffia to the blue area of the painting to simulate wetland grasses.
  11. Tell students to place the fired, painted "scales" on the alligator-shaped outline with tile adhesive.
  12. Add grout between the "scales" to further add to the textured look.
  13. Add clay teeth with tile adhesive and place the eye in a circle of grout (students suggested using a large cat's-eye marble).
  14. Finally, instruct students to create a sign with a list of alligator adaptations to teach viewers about this creature.

    Note: This makes a nice permanent piece for the school hallway. Hang it low enough to allow students to touch the many textures of the alligator.

    Students created this alligator as a culmination of their study of Louisiana wetlands with the JASON Project.

Joseph RaffaelLizard, 1971, oil on canvas, 85 x 85 inches. Collection of Madison Museum of Contemporary Art. Gift of Susan R. Abrams. 1987.02 © Joseph Raffael. Courtesy Nancy Hoffman Gallery, New York.

Elementary, middle

Art, life science