Portrait Gone Wild

Frida Kahlo's
Portrait of Luther Burbank

Portrait Gone Wild Activity

Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera -- Their Lives and Ideas 24 Activities
by Carol Sabbeth

Subject: Visual Arts / Biography

Grades / Level: 3-8

Students will explore how Frida Kahlo used her imagination to create her surreal portrait of Luther Burbank. Next, they will use Kahlo's methods to create a portrait of a famous person.

Length of Lesson
Three 45-minute lessons

Analyzing Kahlo's work encourages students to pay attention to details and increases their ability to observe carefully. Learning about Burbank's achievements then seeing how Kahlo incorporated this information into her piece demonstrates how she used aspects from a subject's life to create a truely unique portrait. Students will be encouraged to use their imaginations to create a portrait of their own.

Students will be able to:
• identify at least 3 elements in Burbank's portrait that illustrate his life;
• discuss how Kahlo compiled objects to create a larger visual image;
• create a Kahlo-inspired portrait using elements from a chosen subject's life;
• describe the reasoning behind their choice of elements; and
• feel more comfortable using their imaginations to create a portrait.

• Image of Portrait of Luther Burbank -- by Frida Kahlo http://www.abcgallery.com/K/kahlo/kahlo24.html
Activity Sheet for Portrait Gone Wild
• Materials listed on Portrait Gone Wild Activity Sheet
• Internet or library access for research
• Luther Burbank biography http://www.parks.sonoma.net/burbstory.html
• About the Art information (see below)
• Sacgawea biography http://www.sacagawea.com/

Day 1
1. Read the story of Burbank's achievements to students while they look at Kahlo's portrait of him. Ask them to identify elements in the painting that relate to Burbank's achievements. These include:
• Burbank's torso is grafted onto a tree trunk
• He is holding a seedling
• A fruit tree in the background
• A fruit-laden plant on his left
(Kahlo's inclusion of a skeleton could be pursued here by looking at two of her paintings that include skeletons -- she liked using them in her work.
The Dream http://www.abcgallery.com/K/kahlo/kahlo44.html
Pitahayas http://www.abcgallery.com/K/kahlo/kahlo27.html)

2. Warm up exercise: Sacagawea
In pairs, ask students to read a short story about Sacagawea. Ask each group to make a list of the things they learned from the story about her. Items could include how she dressed, where she lived or worked, her interests, unique things about her, and what she did that was important.

3. As a class, compile a list. Write items down for all to see then ask students to make suggestions about how the items could be illustrated in a Kahlo-style portrait. Make little sketches of these suggestions, then demonstrate how they could be incorporated into one piece. (See Portrait Gone Wild Activity Sheet for an example.)

Assignment for next class:
Select a famous person for a portrait subject. He or she might be a scientist, explorer, athlete, artist, or musician. Learn about the subject's life and what he or she did to achieve greatness. Make a list of at least 5 things about your subject. Bring your list, along with a picture of your subject, to the next class.

Day 2
1. Ask students to think of images or symbols that represent the words on their list and to make little sketches of them. Students should draw as many sketches as they can think of -- they may not use them all.

2. In pencil, on a separate piece of paper, students should draw a portrait of their subject. Next, decide how to incorporate the symbols into their portrait. Perhaps they spring out of a test tube, are whipped up in a hair-do, flow out of a musical instrument, or are shaped into clouds. Students may need to erase parts of their portrait to integrate the images. They don't have to use all their ideas.

Day 3
1. When their pencil sketch is complete, have students add color to their picture.

2. Ask students to present their portraits and explain why they depicted their subject as they did.

About the Art
Frida Kahlo painted her portrait of Luther Burbank in 1931, during her visit to California. She thought California was beautiful, and was especially impressed by its farms, which produced wonderful fruits, vegetables, and flowers. She thought there was one man responsible for the agricultural abundance she saw: Luther Burbank. Kahlo never met Burbank; he died a few years before she came to California. Still, her portrait captures his spirit. He is pictured as part of a tree; his torso is grafted onto its base. His body sprouts from a trunk, whose roots are nourished by a skeleton. Lush leaves grow in his gifted hands. Kahlo's images sprang from her imagination, as if she saw them in a strange dream. Art historians call this style surrealism. -- from Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera -- Their Lives and Ideas-- 24 Activities by Carol Sabbeth