Art Appreciation in the Library

Vincent Van Gogh – what painting do you think of when you hear his name?  Starry Night? The Sunflowers? The Yellow House paintings? Van Gogh is one of the world’s most famous artists. Between 1881 and 1890 he painted over 900 paintings, yet sold only one during his lifetime.  

Van Gogh’s works come to life during my favorite time of year when Mrs. Lustgarten and I team on some art related lessons. Learning about artists seems to bring the spring and summer warmth into the long, dark winter days of Seattle. A few years ago, the Lake Washington Schools Foundation granted me funds to purchase art appreciation books for our library.

Then a trip to France where I had the opportunity to visit the Louvre and the Orsay Museum in France and Claude Monet’s house in Giverney cemented my love for many of the great artists. Ever since, our art leader, Mrs. Lustgarten and I have coordinated some lessons to link the library to art. We sit down together and brainstorm ideas of how our students can learn about famous artists along with using the tools within the library.

The water lily pond at Claude Monet's estate in Giverney, France.The water lily pond was the inspiration of the gigantic paintings by Monet.


This is one of the gigantic water lily panels by Monet. They are on display in the specially designed Oval Room at the Orsay Museum in France.


This year in addition to focusing on particular artists, we are bringing the art of the Caldecott winners to the forefront of some lessons.

The Caldecott Medal and Honor awards are given to the illustrators of the most distinguished picture book for children of the year. The illustrators use a wide variety of art techniques and in our student lessons, Mrs.Lustgarten is having some classes imitate the medium of the illustrator. In our library classes, we are reading the newest winners and learning more about the award and the different medium artists have used through the years.

Kindergarten has focused on some of the work of Vincent Van Gogh. In first grade, the students read Katie Meets the Impressionists,  Katie’s Sunday Afternoon, and Degas and the Little Dancer, and watched a dvd about Claude Monet’s life as an artist. In art class, they created artwork using the pointilist style of George Seurat.

Second and third grade is learning more about the Caldecott award, the work of author/illustrator Mo Willems and his “pigeon”, as well as Henri Matisse. Fourth grade is focusing on scratchboard art, the style used in The House in the Night, the 2009 Caldecott Medal winner.


 The fifth and sixth grade classes are involved with a long-term research project. They are learning the 5 steps of research in a biography project about a famous artist. Using books and the internet, students must find the basic facts about their artist. Then they will create a Wordle and Fakebook page about their person. The last step is to film a biography interview where they pretend to be the artist they have researched. The biography museum idea came from Mr. Avery in Massachusetts. You can see examples of the biography videos here. My goal was to have the students experience the research process before they begin their exiting Expert’s Projects for their classroom teachers.

The culminating project for the 5th and 6th graders in art will be to create a pennant imitating the style of the artist they have researched. These pennants and videos will be available for viewing at the Art Walk in June.

What famous artist have you learned about?
What was the name of the one painting Van Gogh sold during his lifetime?
Have you ever been to an art museum before?
Who would you choose to research if you could do a biography project?
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3 thoughts on “Art Appreciation in the Library

  1. Dear Mrs. Hembree,

    What a well-done post about artists!

    Like you, I vacationed in France and got a chance to see Monet’s work first hand. I remember staying in a little town called Vernon, and from there I rented a bike and rode out to Monet’s garden. Walking through the garden that inspired his water lily series was a highlight for me. When I saw the paintings in the museum, I was surprised at how big they were.

    I live near the Getty Museum in Los Angeles, and at that museum they have a Van Gogh painting called Irises. It’s spectacular!

    I’ll be curious to hear which artists are of interest to your students!

    Your art-loving friend,
    Mrs. Y♥llis

    • Dear Mrs. Yollis,
      I was so impressed by the gardens at Monet’s house in Giverney! We were there in early August and the flowers were stunning! I could see why Monet wanted to live there to paint. I also loved the Orsay museum and the Louvre. I am a particular fan of Edward Degas and his sculpture The Little Dancer. When I saw it finally in person, I was moved to tears. It is so beautiful.

      I have also seen some Van Gogh paintings in person and I love them. Someday I would like to see the original Starry Night painting. I went to the the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, but it was at the Museum of Modern Art, so I missed it.

      Many of our students loved more modern work and it will be interesting to see how they reply to this post.

      Mrs. Hembree

  2. Dear Mrs Hembree,

    What a beautiful post all about art.
    As I child I loved art and painting in every form. I do remember going to an art gallery many, many years ago but am unable to tell you who’s art work it was I saw at the time. 🙁

    I think the first painting which Van Gogh sold while he was alive was called The Red Vineyard.
    My all time favourite painting by Van Gogh would have to be Irises. How wonderful that Mrs Yollis got to see it for real. I really do believe Mrs Yollis when she wrote in her comment that it was spectacular.

    I have a few favourite artists and they are Claude Monet and Leonardo Da Vinic .

    My late uncle painted a great deal and I loved his paintings as well.

    Truly a lovely post Mrs Hembree.
    From your pal down under,

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