Kids Cafe Lecture: Ancient Near Eastern History, Pt 1

This was one of my favorite that I have done because I have been in love with Ancient Near Eastern (ANE) history and art since I was an undergraduate in college and took a class on it. I’m currently taking a free online class about it. It is always fun to share something new with the kids and this is a great example. I did this over the summer because I knew the audience would be bigger. Because ANE History covers such a huge time period, about 3000 years, I decided to break it into two sections and talk about five civilizations in total (there were many more but hard to squeeze all that into a 20 minute lecture). The first one was on Sumerians and Babylonians. I had originally planned to get the kids to build Lego ziggurats but no one was really interested, so I let them create what they wanted and I built my own version of a ziggurat.

KC Ancient Near Eastern Art History, Pt 1 – June 12

Mesopotamia Map

  • Mesopotamia
    • From the Greek, meaning “two rivers”, which referred to the Tigris and Euphrates Rivers; also called the Fertile Crescent
    • Contains modern day Iraq and parts of Iran, Syria, and Turkey
    • They may have invented the wheel and later used it to invent the chariot and to make pottery, domesticate animals, irrigation etc
    • Using their advanced math, the Mesopotamian astronomers were able to follow the movements of the stars, planets, and the Moon. By studying the phases of the Moon, the Mesopotamians created the first calendar. It had 12 lunar months and was the predecessor for both the Jewish and Greek calendars.
    • The Mesopotamians may have invented the simple machine called the Archimedes Screw. This would have helped to raise water to the heights needed for the plants in the famous Hanging Gardens of Babylon.
  • Sumerians (c. 5000 – 1750 BCE)
    • 1st civilization c. 3300 BCE – “an advanced state of human society, in which a high level of culture, science, industry and government have been reached” –
    • They had the 1st complex cities, they had central government and organized religion, they developed advanced technologies such as the wheel, sail, and plow; they had a surplus of food and traded with other empires
    • Sumerian Map
  • Ziggurats
    • They built temples, to their 3,000 gods and goddesses, called ziggurats
    • They shaped it like a mountain, almost like a step-pyramid, because they believe their gods lived at the top of mountains
    • The largest ziggurat was in the city of Ur, c. 2100 BCE
    • Today Ur-Nammu Ziggurat
    • Artist Rendering of what it might have looked like - Ur-Nammu Ziggurat in Sumeria
  • Written Language
    • Oldest written language in cuneiform on clay tablets or cylinders– 3600 BCE
      • Cuneiform translates into “wedge-shaped”; they were pictures or pictograms meant to represent the real thing
      • Writing was developed in Egypt, the Indus Valley, China, and Mesoamerica afterwards
        • 2150-1400 BCE – Sumerian Epic poem Gilgamesh written on clay tablets
        • Cuneiform on clay tablet
        • Hero_lion_Dur-Sharrukin_Louvre_AO19862
  • Sumerian Art
    • Sumerian Votive Art – small sculptures used in religious ceremonies, found in the Sumerian city of Eshunna
    • Votive Statuettes from the Square Temple, Eshunna c. 2700-2600 BCE
    • statuettes-of-two-worshipers
  • The Standard of Ur
    • Possibly decorations for a music box – c. 2600 BCE
    • Peace Side
    • The Stardard of Ur in Peace
    • War Side
    • The Standard of Ur - War side
    • Made out of wood, lapis lazuli, red limestone and shell
  • Bull-Headed Lyre
    • Found at the Royal Cemetery of Ur, c. 2600 BCE
    • Music was very important to Sumerians, and this one was buried with its musician
    • This one features a bearded bull, created with lapis lazuli and gold leaf and inlaid Gilgamesh-like figures
    • Bull-Headed Lyre
    • Close-up Bull-headed lyre
  • Old/1st Babylonian (1795 – 1595 BCE)
    • Things Babylonians are most famous for:
      • They made several advances in medicine. They used logic and recorded medical history to be able to diagnose and treat illnesses with various creams and pills.
      • They had one of the earliest written down code of law – Hammurabi, King of Babylon, c 1754 BCE
      • Basalt Stele with Hammurabi Code c. 1780 BCE
      • Up Close Stele
  • Ne0-Babylonian (612 – 529 BCE)
    • King Nebuchadnezzar II, the one mentioned in the Bible, destroyed Solomon’s Temple in Jerusalem and exiled the people of Judah to Babylon
    • The city of Babylon, according to the historian Herodotus, “Its outer walls were 56 miles in length, 80 feet thick and 320 feet high.”
    • Plan of the City of Babylon
  • Ishtar Gate



Esther by Rebecca Kanner

To be published: Nov 3, 2015

Esther is a fourteen year old orphaned Jewish girl who is kidnapped by soldiers of King Xerxes of Persia, and taken to his harem in the palace. It is there she must learn to protect herself against the vicious concubine who has been scheming for years to become queen. After a year of preparation, she is presented to the king. Esther manages to capture his heart and attention and is made queen. Now she must watch out for herself more than ever, as she has fallen for one of the Immortals, an elite soldier of the king. Her cousin Mordecai is the king’s accountant and he warns her about Haman. He is the king’s most trusted advisor, who plots the downfall of the Jewish people to increase his own power and prestige. Will Esther be strong enough to risk her life to defeat Haman and save her people? Find out in this lushly described tale of one woman’s journey to greatness. 3-1/2 stars.

I’ve always been fascinated by the story of Esther but never knew much about it, so I figured this book was a good way to get a glimpse. The book does remind me of Tosca Lee’s The Legend of Shebaanother religious fiction ARC about a strong female lead. I love books that are well-researched and pay close attention to detail, and with this book, the reader could really imagine themselves as a young girl surving in Xerxes’ palace. It makes me want to read a biography of the king. I must say that the whole time I was reading it though, I kept picturing him as Rodrigo Santoro, that Brazilian actor who starred as the king from the movie 300It’s kind of hard to believe that all the events in the story happen in little over a year, as it seems like much longer because so much happens to the unlikely heroine. The time she spent in the harem were particularly fascinating, and I enjoyed learning about all the intrigue and backstabbing. It’s crazy to think that any woman would wait a year to get ready for a man to have sex with them and this act alone would determine their fate. I’m guessing the author put the Esther-Erez romance in to counter the transaction-like relationship between the queen and Xerxes. While I enjoyed that part of the story, it does kind of take the attention away from the Biblical tale. Overall, I liked the book but it did drag a bit.

Disclaimer: I received this book, from the publisher Howard Books, in exchange for my honest review.


The Improbability of Love

The Improbability of Love

The Improbability of Love by Hannah Rotshchild

To be published: Nov 3, 2015

This book starts out at the end, then goes back six months to tell the entire story. It starts out at the auction of The Improbability of Love, a lost painting by Antoine Watteau, which may have launched the Rococo movement. It is predicted to break all kinds of art auction records with its sale. Everybody from rappers to Russian billionaires, a desperate art dealer and an American wealthy art collector are awaiting the sale. The actual story starts with Annie McDee, a brilliant but desperately unhappy chef who has come to London to forget about her failed relationship. She becomes the chef for two unscrupulous art dealers named Rebecca and Memling Winkleman, but wants more from her job. She buys the painting at a junk shop on a whim for a guy she’s been dating, but after he doesn’t show up for their date, she ends up stuck with it. Annie has to bail her drunkard mother out of jail, and ends up living with her for a while, but their relationship is less than friendly given past circumstances. While visiting the Wallace Collection with her mother, she brings the painting and it is looked at by Jesse, a tour guide, who thinks it might be more than it appears. The more she and others learn about it, the more people try to take it from her. Will Annie be able to find out the truth about the painting? Will she be able to pursue her dream of opening a historical catering company? Will the painting finally get the recognition it deserves? To find out, check out this intriguing glimpse into the London art world. 3 stars.

I originally picked this book up because I love a good book about art (being an art history major), and this one was different as it spoke through the voice of the painting itself. Just think about what a painting could tell you about its former owners, especially this fictional one as it included Madame de Pompadour, Louis XIV, Catherine the Great and the painter himself. It would make art history so much more fascinating and interactive. After the painting itself, I think my favorite character was Jesse, the painter/tour guide who really pushed Annie to do something about cleaning up the painting and getting it recognized. Annie’s character really annoyed me. She is obviously a talented chef, but completely clueless when it comes to love (i.e. the whole situation with Jesse). The double-dealing nature of the London art world, especially in relation to the Winklemans, was riveting, although I was glad they got their comeuppances in the end. I do have a bit of experience, at least from the curator point of view, as to how the art world can work as I did my first postgraduate degree in Museum and Gallery Studies. The beginning of this book was super slow and it took awhile for me to care about the main character Annie or what happened to her. The middle was much better, but I hated the tidiness of the ending.

Kids Cafe Art Lecture: Piet Mondrian

I’ve been getting ready for my next Tween Book Club. The first one was last Thursday and we only had one kid and one parent show up, though it was still a pretty good discussion of the book. We will have to work on Ice Breakers for next time.  Apparently part of this is due to the fact that no one could figure out where it was, though it was marked on the info sheet, and also because the homeschool writer’s group I distributed a bunch of flyers to apparently already is involved with two other book clubs. Ah well. I am trying my best this time to get as many of age kids a flyer as possible. I have managed to get a couple of kids to check out a book so far. I’ve also been working on finishing off the DiscoveryTimes (Preschool Storytime plus STEM) till the end of the month, when I will hopefully get a bit of a break. Kids Cafe, mostly just admin stuff, has been stressing me out, but I’m feeling better about it now as I’ve finally got things sorted.

This lecture on Dutch artist Piet Mondrian was another example of a modern artist who I have, of course, heard about but never really studied at any length. While I didn’t love the stuff he was most famous for (i.e. the grid-patterned paintings), I did gain a new appreciation for him and especially liked the concept behind one of his most famous paintings, Broadway Boogie Woogie. I had originally picked Mondrian because of the easy accompanying activity.Yes, you can do a super simple activity with duct tape, but the kids and I ended up doing an example using crayons/colored pencils and large pre-cut squares. Mine used primary colors only, but the kids got more creative with color use.

Piet Mondrian

Mondrian - View from the Dunes and Piers, Domburg 1908

View from the Dunes with Beach and Piers, 1909 [this was my favorite piece that I found for this lecture]

  • Biography of the Artist
    • Pieter Cornelis Mondriaan was born in the Netherlands in 1872
      • He changed his name to Piet Mondrian between 1905-1909
    • Mondrian was exposed to art at a very young age because his father was an art instructor and his uncle was an artist.
    • He started out as an elementary school teacher and painted in his spare time.
    • He started out as a landscape painter and painted the fields, farms and canals around Amsterdam.
  • Influences: Impressionism
    • Van Gogh’s Almond Tree, 1890
    • Van Gogh - Almond Tree, 1890
    • Mondrian – Avond (Evening): The Red Tree, 1908
    • Mondrian - Avond- Red Tree, 1908
  • Influences: Pointillism
    • Georges Seurat The Circus Parade, 1889
    • Seurat - La Parade du Cirque, 1889
    • Mondrian’s Sun, Church in Zeeland, 1910 [my second favorite piece of his]
    • Piet Mondrian - Sun, Church in Zeeland, Zoutelande Church Facade, 1910 at Tate Modern Art Gallery London England

      Piet Mondrian – Sun, Church in Zeeland, Zoutelande Church Facade, 1910 at Tate Modern Art Gallery London England

  • Paris – 1911
    • Mondrian moved to Paris in 1911. There he was influenced by the Cubist style of Pablo Picasso and Georges Braque, and his work started including more geometric shapes and were less biomorphic (drawn from nature and more curvy)
      • Picasso’s Ma Jolie (My Pretty Girl), 1911-12
      • Picasso - Ma Jolie (My Pretty Girl), 1911-12
  • Abstraction Starts – 1912
    •  Mondrian – Grey Tree, 1912
    • Mondrian - Grey Tree, 1912
    • Mondrian – Still Life with Ginger Pot, 1912
    • Mondrian - Still Life with Ginger Pot, 1912
  • The Netherlands – 1914-18
    • Mondrian moved back to the Netherlands from 1914-18, during WWI, and after meeting another Dutch artist who used only primary colors, he began to develop his own painting style.
      • In 1915, he created a new art movement called “De Stijl” or “The Style”, aka “Neo-Plasticism”
        • Colors were applied in patches and the horizontal and vertical lines were absolutely straight (there were no diagonal lines). These paintings were not readily accepted by the public.
  • Composition with Color Planes, 1917
  • Mondrian - Composition with Color Planes, 1917
    • Here, Mondrian has moved away from the dark Cubist colors of yellows, grays, and browns, opting instead for muted reds, yellows and blues – a clear precursor to his later palette that focused on primary colors.
  • Paris – 1919-38
    • After the war, he moved back to Paris and began to produce the grid-based abstract paintings with primary colors for which he is best known.
      • Composition with Large Blue Plane, Red, Black, Yellow, and Gray 1921
      • Mondrian - Composition with Large Blue Plane, Red, Black, Yellow and Gray, 1921,
  • New York City – 1938-44
  • New York City I, 1942
  • Mondrian -New York City I, 1942
    • He used strips of colored paper and moved them about on the canvas to get the effect he wanted before he painted it
    • This is the start of a new phase of Mondrian’s work, i.e. the black lines and rectangles of primary colors have disappeared, replaced by primary colored lines interweaved with each other.
  • Broadway Boogie Woogie, 1942-43
  • Mondrian - Broadway Boogie Woogie, 1942-43
    • He loved NYC’s architecture and was fascinated by a kind of jazz, called boogie-woogie
    • It was one of his most famous paintings. Mondrian replaced the black grid that had long governed his canvases with predominantly yellow lines that intersect at points marked by squares of blue and red. These bands of color, interrupted by light gray, create paths across the canvas suggesting the city’s grid, the movement of traffic, and blinking electric lights, as well as the rhythms of jazz.
  • Final Remarks on Mondrian
    • Created about 250 paintings in his lifetime, and was famous during his lifetime
    • Died in 1944 of pneumonia
  • Activity: Easy Hand-Drawn Mondrian Squares
    • Supplies: White paper, 7” x 7” square cardboard template (could also use posterboard), pencils, crayons (black, red, yellow, and blue)
    • My example (I used markers and a sharpie)
    • Mondrian1
    • Another example (not sure if this was done by kid or one of our interns)
    • Mondrian2