This is a mural project for Public Art Saint Paul’s Environmental Arts teaching program at Western Sculpture park in Saint Paul. This project used Harold Fisk’s 1944 diagrams of the Mississippi river to get the kids thinking about the geologic history of the river and our relationship to water.

Fisk Mural

Lesson: Fisk Mural Project

By: Aaron Marx

·                     Key ideas:

·                       • Help kids understand the historical, physiological, and spiritual importance of water in our lives.

·                       • Develop skills using acrylic paint, canvas, and a public art mural apparatus.

·                     Art outcomes: 

·                       • Teach color theory, painting technique, and a general appreciation for art.

·                       • Inspire youth to use art as a means of exploring ideas.

·                       • Provide an example of using art to understand science.

·                     Water outcomes: 

·                       • Connect youth to the scale of the Mississippi River.

·                       • Share knowledge about Minnesota’s geologic history.

·                       • Provide a means to discuss water quality, conservation, and preservation.

·                     Materials:

·                       • Acrylic paint

·                       • Brushes

·                       • Paint containers (paper cups)

·                       • (3) 24″ x 36″ canvas

·                       • (2) saw horses

·                       • 6′ 1×2 board

·                       • Drill

·                       • Screws

·                       • Paint shirts.

Preparation: Harold Fisk’s historic drawings of the geologic shifts of the Mississippi River Delta are the starting point for this exercise. Looking at these drawings could provide students with many opportunities to think and talk about our relationship to the river and how it has change over time. Many artistic opportunities exist within this exploration.

A Fisk drawing was projected and the canvas was pre-drawn with outlines of the Mississippi River. Easily broken down, these drawings were then transported to the site and reassembled.

Execution: The workshop began with a discussion of Fisk’s drawings, how the river has changed over time, and what it must have been like to travel up the river in 1850’s. Then paint was distributed with very little direction of instruction, only to fill in the shapes with color.

We choose to do this project as a one session 3 hour workshop. Using 2 saw horses turned end-to-end for the support system, a 1×2 was mounted across the back side of pre-stretched canvas. For this example, we used (3) 24×36″ canvas, but that could expand to many more.

Teaching art appreciation, best practices, and techniques happened throughout the activity. With that many opportunities presented themselves, to engage youth in conversations about water quality, conservation, and preservation of natural resources.