• Rieke students combine art and history in creating teapots

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    Samples of teapots by Rieke students

    Samples of teapots by Rieke students

    On the surface, a tea party for fifth-graders might seem out of place. But for students at Rieke Elementary School, a series of three tea parties was the perfect culmination of a unit that combined art and U.S. history.

    All 75 fifth-graders at Rieke created teapots, an art project guided by the school’s Art Specialist, Jill Mitchell. The project tied into the students’ unit of study that included learning about Colonial America, including the Boston Tea Party, the American Revolution and Paul Revere. The class included discussions on the tea trade of the era, and how slavery factored into it.

    In the art class, Mitchell displayed a print of Revere (who was a silversmith) holding a teapot, along with a print of him showing teapots he had made.

    “That was kind of our jumping off point for the unit,” Mitchell said.

    Mitchell also showed students examples of contemporary teapots for inspiration, then had them create their own designs. They used a wide range of subjects, from a Cheshire Cat to the Portland Thorns soccer team, from a cupcake to a unicorn.

    “They are just all fun designs,” Mitchell said.

    The work on the teapots took about two months and involved Mitchell taking them up to nearby Wilson High School, where visual arts teacher Andrew Butterfield let her use the school’s kiln (Rieke doesn’t have one). Last week, Rieke invited families to attend a tea party, one for each of the three fifth-grade classes, with tea and shortbread served (the student-made teapots weren’t used to serve tea, although they could have been).

     The classroom was set up like a gallery, with the teapots displayed, and Post-it Notes available at each pot to allow feedback from students and parents.

    “The tea party was a culmination, a celebration of this unit of study,” Mitchell said.