Habits of Mind

  • Communicate

Working with Shapes

Discussion through works of art encourage how to approach ambiguous and complex ideas, thoughts, and feelings. The MFAH offers a democratic space where students and teachers can develop, practice and articulate these habits of mind. Remember that the quality of the conversation is what is important, not finding the artist’s “answer.” Slow down and take the time to make careful observations. Talk about what you notice, and try to avoid jumping to conclusions and interpretations. Be sure to give enough time for silent looking and thinking.

Curriculum Objectives

Students will…

•  Explore the concept of three-dimensional art.

•  Recognize and name geometric shapes.

•  Construct charts and calculate totals.




  • Math Assessment: Working with Shapes

    • Re-create the geometric shapes found in the work of art using chenille stems/pipe cleaners.

    • Using the works of art, play a simple game of “I Spy” focusing on geometric shapes.  Have each student frame an “I Spy” question to ask the class.  For example, “I spy a row of small white rectangles with dots in the center”.  Find that in the work of art.

    • Create simple geometric paper sculpture using the slip-and-slot sculpture method. (see Art Lesson: Working with Shapes - Slip and Slot Sculptures, pg. 15)

  • Art Assessment: Pinch Pot

    • Use clay to make a pinch pot inspired by the Macaw Effigy Bowl. (See Art Lesson: Making a Pinch Pot, pg. 15)

  • What types of lines do you see? Follow a line with your eye and describe how it curves, angles or bends.

  • What shapes are created on the surface? Categorize them as organic or geometric.

  • Examine the patterns that the shapes and lines create.Do they seem balanced?Explain.

  • How do the lines and shapes work together to show parts of an animal? What animal parts do you recognize?

  • Give examples of animals that have beaks similar to the one on this work of art. What sound might this make if it came to life?

  • Observe the diagonal shapes and zig-zag lines on the side.How do they give you a feeling of movement?Move your arms to demonstrate. The implied movement of those lines and shapes represent a type of bird called a macaw.

  • Those shapes and designs on the sides of this work of art are designed to show the feathery wings of a macaw. How are those designs similar to wings? What other areas remind you of birds?

  • Do you think this is three dimensional? Why? What type of form does it have?

  • What do you have in your kitchen cupboard that might have this same form?

  • What type of material might this have been molded from?

  • Review and count the geometric shapes.
  • Discuss the concept of a three-dimensional sculpture having height, width, and depth.

  • This bowl is a type of pottery made from coils of clay placed on top of each other and pinched together. Imagine how that method would create a pot in this shape. Explain.

  • Are the coils visible in this bowl? A pebble would have been used to smoothen the look of the coils. Have you ever smoothened the sides of clay? How?

  • This bowl was created a long time ago when pebbles were used to polish and smooth bowls. Since it was made in the 1300’s, calculate how many years old it is.

  • Compare the macaw represented in this bowl to pictures and/or videos of live macaws. How are they the same? Different?

  • Research what regions of the world macaws inhabit. This Macaw Effigy Bowl was made in Casas Grandes, Mexico. Since it is very chilly in the desert at night there, they built special structures with furnaces so the birds wouldn’t get cold and the people could use the birds’ feathers in special ceremonies. How important do you think macaws were in this culture? Hypothesize why this bowl might have been made to represent a macaw.

  • If you made a bowl in the shape of something special in your life, what would it be? Elaborate.

This bowl has been transformed into an effigy of a macaw by the simple addition of a head and tail to the standard Casas Grandes bowl shape.  Macaws were prominent in Casas Grandes, where their brilliantly colored feathers were prized for ceremonial offerings.  The birds were bred and raised in special structures with furnaces to keep them warm during the chilly desert nights.

The geometric designs covering the entire surface in bold diagonal patterns are found on most Southwest pottery of this time, but here are carefully chosen and placed to evoke the wings of the macaw.  The crisp painting in black and red is especially fine as a result of direct influence from the Mimbres culture to the north. The expressive head with its squawking beak gives the bowl a presence greater than its small size would normally command.

Native American pottery was made by building up the vessel from a flat base using coils of clay placed on top of each other and pinched together.  The artist used a pebble to smooth and polish the surface of the vessel.

The ancient cultures of the American Southwest extended into present-day state of Chihuahua in Mexico.  Between 1000 and 1350, these cultures enjoyed a golden age, when influences from the sophisticated civilizations of central Mexico far to the south reached the area.  The town of Casas Grandes, at the southern edge of the region, occupied an advantageous position for transmitting these influences to the north.  It developed as an important trading center for such Mesoamerican products as copper bells and ornaments, sea shells, and tropical birds.

This small Macaw Bowl reveals stylistic images from many cultures in the American Southwest.  Lively trade spread diverse pottery styles and designs throughout the region.  Here, the stylized feather designs come from Sikyatki Pueblo in Arizona.  Bird images are also found on historic pottery from the Acoma Pueblo in Arizona and on vessels from the Zia and Zuni Pueblos in New Mexico.

The Learning Through Art program is endowed by Melvyn and Cyvia Wolff.

The Learning Through Art curriculum website is made possible in part by a grant from the Institute of Museum and Library Services.

All Learning and Interpretation programs at the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, receive endowment income from funds provided by the Louise Jarrett Moran Bequest; Caroline Wiess Law; the William Randolph Hearst Foundation; The National Endowment for the Humanities; the Fondren Foundation; BMC Software, Inc.; the Wallace Foundation; the Neal Myers and Ken Black Children’s Art Fund; the Favrot Fund; and Gifts in honor of Beth Schneider