Frances Myers, The Martyrdom, 1984. Relief print.
Lesson plan developed by Ann Kohl-Re, art educator, Madison, Wisconsin
Grades 6 to 8
Summary of Activity
Visual Elegy for My Heroine
"...the dust of the past..fired my imagination..."
Frances Myers’ figure in The Martyrdom is inspired by the comic book character, Wonder Woman. It is part of a series four relief prints in which Myers explores the connection between this female super-hero and stories or events from the life of Christ. Although Wonder Woman appears in The Martyrdom to be captured and bound, her posture is strong and her facial expression is focused. It is as though she is gathering her inner strength to fight against the forces that bind her. In the 1980s, Frances Myers explored through her art issues of gender and power. In this project, students will compare and contrast super-heroes with living heroes and create a visual elegy to their female heroine. Using cut-paper media, students will make a collage about a heroine that has personal meaning for them. Like Frances Myers, they will create and organize symbolism in a simplified, unified composition.
Students use block-printing techniques to create the portrait of their heroine, and frame this image with collage elements that further define the qualities of the woman they have selected to study and depict.
Students will study symbolism as they analyze the colors and symbols present in The Martyrdom. Using a guide (an example is below) and small group discussion, students will identify a female heroine who they admire. Students will create symbols for their heroine and use these in a cut-paper collage.
How does Frances Myers communicate the challenges of gender equality in the 1980s? Who is a real life heroine to you? What symbols can you create to help elegize or pay tribute to your heroine?
Social Studies, Science, Arts, Physical Education: Students identify a heroine from one of these fields that inspires them. Language Arts: Students explore and analyze super heroes/heroines as mythic figures.
Frances Myers, The Martyrdom, in Art on Tour exhibition
The Martyrdom artwork page, Art on Tour website
Digital slide presentation of images of Wonder Woman
Electronic media for research
Teacher-made guiding worksheet to help identify heroine (see Activity below for an example)
Color or black-and-white printer for images of heroines
12x18-inch white or blue paper for background
Teacher-made example of Visual Elegy to a Real Heroine
Assorted colored papers for symbolic images and framing
Scissors, glue sticks
Black permanent marker or pen
Spend time in a large or small group identifying symbolism in The Martyrdom. Discuss Myers’s choice to use a limited color palette and simplified details. Look at images of Wonder Woman and discuss her costume. Discuss super heroes and how they are like and different from “real” people. If time, create a Venn diagram that compares and contrasts characteristics of super-heroes and actual heroes/heroines.
Discuss Myers’ visual style in The Martyrdom and how it helps to communicate ideas about Wonder Woman. Ask students to analyze why Myers chose to portray Wonder Woman bound and bleeding and how this relates to the title of the piece. Next, ask them to use the guiding worksheet to help them identify their real-life heroine. Instruct them to find and print a suitable 5 x 7-inch photograph of their heroine, determine how to include symbols directly on the photograph, and frame it with color and symbols. Ask them to identify additional visual symbols, including colors, that will communicate their subject’s heroic identity. Instruct them in creating and organizing their compositions using half of the 12 X 18-inch paper for the photograph and the other half for symbolic imagery. Encourage them to unify their compositions by limiting colors and adding black line, as needed.
Students write a short explanation of their Visual Elegy, including biographical information about their heroine and why they chose her. Students research gender issues of the 1980s and present their findings to the class or a small group. Students interview a social studies, language arts, math, arts or physical education teacher about who is a heroine in her field.
SAMPLE GUIDE OR WORKSHEET
Use this information to create a guide or worksheet to help students generate ideas for real-life heroines. Use the guide as an entire class, in small groups, or in partners.
- Name at least three women from the visual or performing arts. Explain why you consider them to be heroines.
- Name at least three women scientists from your or your parents’ lifetimes. Describe what makes each woman a heroine.
- Name at least three woman athletes or dancers from your lifetime. Describe why you consider each of them to be a heroine.
- Name at least three women from politics or public service whom you consider heroic. Describe these women’s heroic characteristics.
- Name at least three women authors, poets, or journalists. Describe what makes them heroines to you.
- Name other heroines—perhaps someone you know personally, in volunteer service, or in a profession such as agriculture, science, education, business, the military, or the law. Name the character strengths that make this woman or women heroic.
Common Core Standards
7th grade Common Core Standards for Visual Arts:
VA: Cr1.2.7a, VA:Cr2.3.7a, VA:Cr3.1.7a, VA:Pr6.1.7a, VA:Re8.1.7a, VA:Ch11.1.7a
8th grade Wisconsin Visual Arts Standards:
A.8.6, B.8.6, C.8.3, E.8.1, E.8.5, G.8.1, G.8.2, G.8.3, G.8.4, I.8.7, J.8.2, J.8.9, J.8.10, K.8.1, L.8.1, L.8.6
Frances Myers (American, 1936–2014), The Martyrdom, 1984, relief print, 20 x 15 inches. Gift of Marshall Erdman and Associates, Inc. Collection of the Madison Museum of Contemporary Art.