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ARTplay: What’s a Chimera, Anyway?

Risdm 43-592 View 001Risdm 43-592 View 002Risdm 43-592 View 003

By Marianne Ruggiero
Coordinator of Family Programs at The RISD Museum

In the Asian art galleries of The RISD Museum, there stands a fearsome guardian. Part roaring lion, part winged bird, it is poised to attack any foe that enters its domain. The fantastic stone animal, created in China about fourteen centuries ago, is called a “chimera” (kie-MEER-ah). It was probably one of many statues whose ferocious demeanor served to keep evil beings, whether in spirit or living form, away from imperial tombs.

The chimera is just one of the many hybrid creatures created by different cultures throughout time. Others might come to mind, whether first seen in art galleries, on the pages of a story by Lewis Carroll, or on the screen of your kids’ Nintendo. Griffins, according to legend, have the body of a lion and the head and wings of an eagle. The gentle unicorn could pass for a horse if you disregard the long horn that protrudes from its forehead . . . and, oh yes, there is the matter of that goat-like beard as well (also an attribute of the chimera).

Cultures often share the same traditional mythical beasts but don’t agree on their behavior. Is a dragon, possessed of reptilian body and avian wings, good or evil? We Westerners seem to relish the dragon’s malevolent qualities as it breathes fire at helpless maidens or valiant knights. In China, the dragon is every bit as mighty as its Western counterpart, but generally uses its might for right: to bring rain to parched earth, or to symbolize the strength and goodness of the emperor.

In whatever form or incarnation, children seem to love these hybrid beasts, the more fantastic the better. Here’s a fun project to do with your kids that lets them create their own “Mixed-Up Creatures.” It was adapted by Fran Gorman, Program Assistant in the Museum Education Department and former art teacher at Jamestown Elementary School.

MIXED-UP CREATURE BOOKRISD's Mixed up Creature Book Project

– 8 1/2 x 11-inch paper (white or colored, regular weight)
– Heavier paper (construction works well)
– Scissors
– Small piece of cardboard as measuring tool
– Ruler or straight edge
– Heavy yarn, string, or ribbon
– Crayons or other drawing materials

How to Make Book
– Fold the regular-weight paper the tall way (8 sheets makes a nice book).
– Use the heavier paper for the front and back covers. Cut to the size of the book pages (4.25” W x 11” H).
– Punch three holes on the folded edge of each sheet of paper, including covers.
– Thread the heavy string in the holes and tie in the three holes.
– Inside: Draw a straight line with the ruler ¼-inch away from the punched holes. The line is from top to bottom.
– Use the small cardboard to measure each page into four equal sections.
– Draw a line and cut straight across with scissors. Repeat with each page.

How to Create Creatures
– Draw the head of an animal in the top section.
– Draw the center of a different animal’s body in the next section down.
– Draw the legs (not the feet or paws) of yet a different animal in the next section down.
– Draw the feet, hoofs, paws, or claws of a different animal (or even a person!) in the lowest section.
– Decorate the cover of the book with designs or stamps.

Have fun flipping the pages of the book back and forth to create all kinds of mixed-up creatures!

Chinese Lion Dance-1East Meets West

Meet a cast of “mixed-up creatures” and have fun making art at The RISD Museum’s Free-For-All Saturday on May 31, 2008, from 11:00 a.m. — 4:00 p.m. At 3:00 p.m., in the RISD Auditorium, Boston’s Chinese Folk Art Workshop amazes with traditional dance, drumming, and acrobatics. Free-For-All Saturday at the museum means admission, refreshments, and all activities are free!
Location: The RISD Museum – 224 Benefit Street, Providence, RI

The lion dance (pictured above), created in China over one thousand years ago, will be presented by Boston’s acclaimed Chinese Folk Art Workshop as part of “East Meets West.”

For Kids: Can You Draw This?
The Chinese seem to have a fondness for complicated beasts. Take the fenghuang or “Chinese phoenix”: with the face of a rooster, neck of a snake, breast of a goose, back of a tortoise, legs of a deer, and tail of a fish, it is just about the most mixed-up of all creatures. Think you can draw such a creature? Download and print the template here, and bring your drawing to The RISD Museum. You’ll receive a free pass to the museum for yourself and your family to use another day!

Chinese, 6th century
Stone; 20 ** x 17 ** x 16 **
Museum of Art, Rhode Island School of Design
Museum Works of Art Fund
Photography by Erik Gould

All additional inquires or requests should be directed to: Melody Ennis, Coordinator of Photographic Services, The RISD Museum, 224 Benefit Street, Providence, RI 02903. 401 454-6535. E-mail inquires to: mennis@risd.edu

ARTplay is a monthly column written by Marianne Ruggiero for The RISD Museum in which various themes and activities introduce kids and parents to the museum’s collection both online and off. Each month Kidoinfo will help spark your children’s interest in art – they can learn about different works at the museum and download a related activity to create offline. Be sure to visit the museum and explore the art in person. On Free-for-All Saturdays (the last Saturday of every month), kids may continue their exploration through a variety of hands-on workshops, performances, videos, and special gallery quests throughout the day.

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