Houghton Mifflin Social Studies
Oh, California

Understanding Primary Sources:
California Missions in Art

Objective: Students examine 19th century artists' drawings and paintings of Spanish missions and write an essay describing what they learn from the artists' works.

What You Need:

Suggested Time:
2-3 hours over 2 days

Building Background:
Review with students the activities of Catholic padres during the Spanish colonization of California. Remind the students that the padres were sent to Alta California to start missions where they could try to Christianize the Indians. Point out that we know what some of the mission buildings and grounds looked like at that time because artists made drawings. Tell students that they will examine some of these drawings to understand more about life on a mission.

What To Do:

1. Have students use the school or public library to find drawings or paintings of California missions done in the 1800s. Work with them to choose two or three different artists and/or a series of work from one artist.

2. Have each student choose one image from among the different collections to study, as he/she fills out the What Does This Image Tell Us? worksheet. Encourage students to look at their images carefully and completely, and to give themselves time to think about the answers to the worksheet.

3. After students have finished the worksheet, have them use the information to write a one-page essay describing the mission as the artist shows it. Is the mission in use? Does it need repair? Is anyone living there? How is the land around the mission being used? Encourage students to include as many details as they can.

Discuss with students the ways in which the information a drawing or painting can provide is different from the information a photograph can provide.


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