Portraying History Through Art

Fair Exhibits Masters of the Renaissance

Freshmen Nael Saleh, left, and Brock Sweezie studied artist Piero della Francesca

Freshman Daniel Zawodny can tell you about a courtyard confrontation between artistic rivals Leonardo da Vinci and Michelangelo.

And while freshman Brock Sweezie admits he’s more into modern art than that of the Renaissance, he still knows about the work of blind theorist, mathematician and painter Piero della Francesca.

Brock and Daniel, and more than 60 other Northern High World History students — mostly freshmen — put school staffers, parents and grandparents to the test during a Renaissance Fair held recently.

Freshman Flynn Lyon is clearly pondering the Sistine Chapel ceiling

They had learned about art in 14th to 17th century Europe in the weeks leading up to the holiday break, and paired off to research nine primary Renaissance artists.

Each pair took on the role of expert on their chosen artist. Their exhibits included tri-fold displays with pictures, trivia, drawings and other details. All  included interactive portions, and some had color brochures about their artists. Several displayed their own artwork in homage to the masters.

Those who visited the fair were given trivia questions, word puzzles and even invited to try to reproduce works of art on the spot.

This was the second year teacher Faith Shotts-Flikkema’s students hosted a Renaissance Fair.

“The students work really hard on this particular unit, and for most of them it’s the first time they’ve learned about the artists and their works,” she said. “I want them to see the global perspective — how these artists changed history — and how still today, their contributions matter.”

Shotts-Flikkema noted the challenge for some students to act as experts on their chosen artist by putting together a formal, public presentation. “For freshmen this is often the first time they’ve done something like this, and though anxiety producing, it builds confidence and long-term expertise,” she said.

Fair visitor Laura Parker tries her hand at copying a Filippo Lippi painting

Also, she added, having an outside audience allows students to see the diversity of perspectives; what one person likes, another may not.

Putting together a fair “is more than rote memory, it’s interactive, thought-provoking, multi-faceted,” she said. “Studying Renaissance artists in depth enables students to compare and contrast between the artists; some had major challenges to overcome, while others were aided by patrons. Some artists faced the Black Plague, while others lived into their 90s.”

Students also considered similarities and differences to current conditions for artists, such as women not being “allowed” to become famous or be recognized for their works during the Renaissance, and how artists fund and promote their work.

“I love the ‘aha’ moments when students identify with something the author experienced or created,” Shotts-Flikkema said. “It’s rewarding to see the loyalty they develop for ‘their’ artist, (and) I enjoy seeing students become teachers as they explain to someone else why the art is significant.”

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Morgan Jarema
Morgan Jarema is a Grand Rapids native and a product of Grand Rapids Public Schools, including Brookside and West Leonard elementaries, City Middle/High School and Ottawa Hills. She found her tribe in journalism in 1997 and has never wanted to do anything but write. For 15 years she was a freelance journalist for The Grand Rapids Press, covering local schools and government, religion, business, home & garden and lifestyles. She and her husband, John, think even those without kiddos should be invested in their local schools and made to feel a part of them. Read Morgan's full bio

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