Pre-visit preparation
Themes | Activities

Andrea Kalinowski's artwork brings up various ideas and issues, both historical and aesthetic. Providing them in advance with some contexts in which to consider the work, the viewers' experience of the exhibition will be enriched. The educational component to the exhibition has three broad objectives:

1) Expand understanding of the history of Jewish-American immigration and the connection between the experiences of the Jewish pioneer women and the waves of migration that have occurred throughout world history and that continues in the present day.

2) Explore the impact of pioneers on the American West and the role women played in shaping the lives of their families and larger communities and the meaning of their experiences for contemporary times.

3) Increase awareness of the role of art as a catalyst for social change.

Suggested preparatory activities, readings and discussions:

1) View the video (click on "The Artist"). Lead a discussion with the class about the Jewish immigration experience. Connect the history of Jewish immigration to the migration experience in general. What causes people to immigrate? Cite examples of areas that have seen emigration in the past, and talk about areas that are experiencing emigration today and why. Have them imagine what it would be like to uproot their lives, bringing only a few of their most valued possessions with them, and even leaving some of their family behind.

2) Read excerpts from women's or children's diaries (or read fictional accounts based on such diaries) about their move to the West. Discuss traditional roles for women in that era, or what was expected of children during the migration to the West. What were their responsibilities? How were they able to fulfill those responsibilities, or what difficulties did they encounter? (Refer to bibliography for options for journals appropriate to students' age level.)

3) Read in your history textbook, supplemented by primary source readings from The American Frontier: Opposing Viewpoints, to learn about the frontier of the American West. The primary source material will provide perspective about the diversity that existed on the frontier: men, women, Native American, African American, Spanish-American, and other ethnic groups. It will also demonstrate to students that the American West was not uninhabited and undiscovered territory, as it is often represented to be. (The American Frontier is directed toward students ages 15 and up. An alternative to illustrate frontier diversity for younger students, ages 6 and up, is Jewish Heroes of the Wild West.)

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There is an old African saying that until the lions have their historians, the stories of hunting will always glorify the hunters. Similarly, until there were women historians of the American West, the conventional historical view had focused on the larger-than-life personalities of famous men. Andrea Kalinowski's artworks provide another perspective that allows us to appreciate the daily lives of ordinary people, specifically Jewish immigrant women, as the basis for creating a new understanding of history.

By researching and telling us the stories of Jewish women living in the American West, Kalinowski has connected to her own heritage. Yet the stories she relates have parallels among many other cultures and ethnic groups. The cross-cultural connections are worth investigating with visitors, who might find this as an opportunity to consider their own families' experiences with respect to migration and maintaining cultural identity.

Some of the important themes that might be discussed with visitors are noted below. Please refer to the bibliography for readings on these topics.

1) A History Tour

Objectives: The excerpts that appear in the artworks are taken from diaries, journals and
letters gathered by the artist from archives throughout the country. These documents give valuable insight into what life was like on the American frontier from the mid-1800s to the early 1900s. In their migrations, these pioneers, many of whom had recently completed journeys to the United States from Europe to escape persecution or political repression, faced experiences that were entirely new to them and that challenged the perspectives and cultural practices that they carried with them from the "Old Country."

Discuss some of these excerpts and what we can glean from them. What do we learn about the individuals who wrote them? What do they reveal about the time period and the social changes taking place? Below are some other things to consider based on a discussion of the excerpts:
2) A Women's Tour

Objectives: When the women presented in these artworks were making their travels across the Atlantic Ocean and across the United States to settle in the American West, there were definite roles that women had in their families and in society. The excerpts that appear on the artworks provide valuable information about what it was like to be a woman during this period. Yet as the artist points out, "In the early West, women were encouraged by their husbands to take on new roles. It was important that women step out of what had been previously understood as the feminine role. In the West, a woman didn't just work in the family store, she often ran it."

Focus on one or two works in the exhibit for an in-depth discussion of the excerpts, such as the ones noted below, or select other quotes that would be of particular interest to your group.
3) An Art Tour


Themes | Activities | Top of Page


1) Interview an older family member or neighbor to learn more about your family or your community. Below are some questions you may wish to ask:

If family immigrated to the United States:
If Native American: 2) Invite a speaker to share his or her personal story about immigrating to this country. What was their life like in their homeland? Why did they decide to move? What was their journey like? What were some of the specific things that were different here than in their homeland? Have them recall some of the specific stories or incidents about their immigration experience.

3) Make a quilt that tells your own story. Using a template of a traditional quilt design, place a photograph of yourself at the center. Then add words or pictures of people, places, or events that are important to you. You can write on your quilt, or add stitching or collage elements that have been cut out of a magazine. You can also add layers of images by drawing designs like those in Andrea Kalinowski's quilts. When making your quilt, think about what you like to do, what things and people and places are important to you, what your family's traditions are, etc. When everyone has made their own quilt, connect them together to create a larger quilt that tells stories about the entire class.

4) Choose one of the Jewish pioneers pictured in the quilts. Read about her life in the excerpts. Think about what you know about her and what you don't know. Write an essay about what you think her experience was like in the West. How was her experience different from you own? Would you have liked to live when she did or now? Are you inspired by her life? Do her experiences make you understand yourself and your own history better?

5) Think about an object in your family that is symbolic, or has great importance in your family. Ask family members about its history and what it represents to each person. Why is it important? What does it symbolize? What meaning does it hold for you? After learning the story about the object, do you look at it in a different way? Think about what object someone from another society or culture might consider important. Do they value their family heirloom like you do yours? After you have gathered this information, write a short story about the object and its importance in your family.

6) Imagine that you and your family are leaving your home tomorrow to emigrate to another country. You can only bring what you can fit in one bag (a small suitcase, a back-pack or a duffel bag). What would you bring with you? Think about what you value and why as you are packing. Bring your bag to school and explain to the class what you selected. What are the things that you wished you could bring but could not because they would not fit?

7) Watch the movie How to Make an American Quilt. Discuss how quilting brought the women together to form a community. What was the occasion that they were making the quilt for? What did the women learn from each other, and why was the gathering important to each woman? How did each woman stitch something about herself and her personal story into the quilt for Finn? What did Finn learn from the women from an earlier generation? How does quilting build community?

8) Think of an issue that is important in today's society, or an event or moment you would like to remember or commemorate as a group or individually. Make a quilt that pieces together your various thoughts about the issue(s) or event(s). What would you like people to learn from this "issues quilt"? How will the quilt raise awareness?

9) Choose one of the books from the "Dear America" series. Read it and write a book report to present to the class. As you are reading, consider some of the following questions for your book report: What time period did the character live in? What was happening then, and how did that shape the experience that the character was writing about? Describe the personality of the character. Did he or she encounter challenges that he or she had to overcome? What were they, and how did he or she handle them? These books are written as if they were diaries. How did that affect how you read the book and learned about the character? Did you relate at all to the character? Can you think of any comparable experience today that is like what your character went through? Put yourself in the shoes of the character. Write a diary entry in the same style as how the character wrote, in a situation that character might likely encounter during his or her lifetime. After each individual book report, have the children compare and contrast the experiences of their chosen characters.

10) Lead a class discussion about the broader theme of migration, not only as it relates to Jewish immigration but worldwide. War, religious persecution, political repression, poverty or natural disasters are just a few of the factors that might cause people to uproot from their homes and move somewhere else. Of the estimated more than 100 million migrants worldwide, statistics show that more than 26 million are refugees who have been forced by politics or circumstance‹not of their own choice‹to leave their homes. In being displaced from their familiar physical surroundings and communities, people often are forced to leave behind families, possessions and traditions as well. People often are able to maintain their traditions‹whether religious or social customs‹in the face of such migrations, yet those traditions are often transformed as people adapt to their new surroundings and neighbors.

11) Keep a journal for a month. In it, describe your daily routine, the experiences you have and your reaction to them, and any observations you have about the society you live in. Think about the things that you found interesting and important in the first-hand accounts from the frontier that you have read. With this in mind, include things in your journal that you think someone reading it 100 years from now would find useful to understanding what it was like to be a young adult in the United States in the early 21st century.