Since I was a child, I was kitty crazy. I received a “Big Book of Cats” picture book at nine years old. Each cat was in some kind of themed picture: a black cat in a black magician’s hat, a white one frolicking through a garden, a Persian on a Persian rug. My mother and grandmother even took me to see the musical “Cats” in NYC for my birthday. So when years later I stumbled upon Laurel Burch cats in all their bright colors and bold patterns, I knew I had to make an art lesson of it.
Artist Laurel Burch suffered from osteoporosis, a bone disease that, at times, limited her ability to walk. Her brittle bones would break easily. Over the course of her life, she endured over 100 bone fractures. Because of this, she spent a great deal of time in bed or a wheelchair, sometimes at home, and sometimes in the hospital.
She married and divorced at a young age and supported herself by creating handmade jewelry. Laurel Burch was crafty and inventive and would use odd materials like stones and coins to make wearable art. And over time, her jewelry caught and she turned her folk art into a thriving business.
Eventually, she started painting her signature Laurel Burch cats on canvas. They appeared on handbags, mugs, earrings, and anywhere else she could. They were a real hit! Today, it’s what she’s most known for. And even though she has since passed away, her fantastic felines can still be found on goods created by her company.
Art Lesson Set Up
I begin this 2nd grade art lesson by talking about the life and work of Laurel Burch. Despite facing adversity at such a young age, she was able to achieve notoriety. I think that message resonates well with students. It’s a great opportunity to reflect on growth mindset!
We discuss the difference between fine art and folk art. I like to show my students examples of both and we examine what characteristics help define it as one or the other. I stress the decorative nature of folk art as well as its everyday use such as in earrings or a pillow. In contrast, I highlight how fine art is hung in museums and galleries and is created by trained artists who may or may not be looking to sell their art.
It’s at this point in the art lesson that the cherubs start piping up.
“My neighbor makes these metal water fountains!”
“My grandma sews big quilts for my bed!”
“Uncle Teddy designs tattoos! He draws lots of ladies in bikinis and dogs. He’s got some crazy tats.”
Yep, that last one actually happened, pffff.
Then we break down some Laurel Burch cats and talk about what we see in terms of the elements of art: line, color, and shape. I have my students come to the board to pick out the bright colors, bold lines, and shapes she uses in the patterns on the cats.
By the time a child gets to 2nd grade, they should be able to create some basic AB, ABC, and ABAC patterns. Being that I worked in a Title 1 school, I never assumed they could so we quickly reviewed it.
Laurel Burch Cats
And then it’s all, “LET THE GAMES BEGIN!”
I bust out a copy of my Laurel Burch cats game and the kids start rolling their die to figure out which patterns they’ll use for their kitty.
Now, I’ve done this project a handful of ways depending on the particular class and timeframe. Here’s a rundown:
- Draw your own cat
- Use a cat tracer
- Design in dry media like markers, colored pencils, and crayons
- Outline in crayon, paint in with watercolors
- Marker painting
- Draw on white paper
- Create on colored paper
If you’re a new art teacher or a classroom teacher teaching your own art lessons, just know there’s no one right way. It’s whatever works best for your students and situation.
This particular year, I had the class draw their own kitty on white paper and complete it marker painting style. I do prefer kids draw their own Laurel Burch cats because each comes out uniquely different and oh so cute!
Art Games for Kids
Find me a kid who doesn’t like playing games, especially in art class because it helps pep up the art history portion of the lesson. The moment I pull out one of these bad boys, the kids are all excited!
If you’d like to snag a copy of this Laurel Burch cats art game, you can grab it here. It’s not just a game. It includes some basic information about her life and work along with “I CAN” statements aligned to the Studio Habits of Mind. In addition, there’s an assessment rubric students fill out at the completion of the project.
And hey, if you’re going to be absent, these make awesome art sub plans. They come with step-by-step instructions that include pictures. Just hand them over to the kiddos.