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Elephants, Buffalo, and Giraffes…Oh My!

February 24, 2011

Take a moment and imagine an African elephant at the Dallas Zoo.  Now imagine an elephant at the Dallas Museum of Art.    Were the images of the elephants the same?    It would definitely make an interesting story (with a strong potential of damaging artworks) to see a live elephant  in the Museum galleries!    Although elephants are not allowed in the Museum, images and representations of elephants and other animals by living African cultures are.

On Saturday, January 29, twelve teachers from a variety of disciplines and grade levels joined the DMA and the Dallas Zoo for a full-day teacher workshop.   Teachers spent the morning exploring animals from Africa in the DMA exhibition African Masks: The Art of Disguise and in the afternoon engaged with live animals in the Dallas Zoo’s Giants of the Savanna exhibition.

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At the Museum, teachers considered the connections between the animals represented in masks and the living cultures that created the masks in response to their beliefs and surrounding environment.  With a focus on antelope, elephants, and buffalo, Museum staff encouraged teachers to think about descriptive words that relate to each, observe the realistic and abstract qualities of the animal masks, and think about the context of each mask in relationship to the ceremonies performed by the different cultures.

The conversation continued at the Dallas Zoo as teachers discussed  the  location of the African Savanna, the animal habitats within, and the challenges facing animals in the different African countries.  Luckily, the weather outside was extraordinary (the workshop occurred the weekend before the snow and ice), and the teachers were able to ride the monorail around the Zoo, participate in elephant observation studies, and feed the giraffes.

By the end of the day, teachers commented on their experiences with looking at patterns on the African masks and on the animals and made connections to the  significance of animals within the cultures and countries in Africa.

We all had a great time and are looking forward to another collaborative teacher workshop with the Dallas Zoo soon!  This workshop is one example of what the DMA offers to teachers of all grade levels and disciplines.   Be sure to check the Teacher Programs website for new workshops later this spring.

Until next time….

Jenny Marvel
Manager of Programs and Resources for Teachers

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