The Early American Pastimes program comprises three activities: paper quillwork, shadow silhouettes, and exploring the glass armonica. Quilling is the art of making mosaic-like designs from narrow rolls of colored paper. Although it dates back to medieval Europe, quilling took on new life in Colonial America, when wealthy New England merchants sent their daughters to schools which advertised quillwork classes along with such “pretty arts” as needlepoint and watercolor painting. In the 1700 and 1800s furniture-makers created jewelry boxes, mirror frames, and entire cabinets with special panels meant to be filled with the paper filigree. Students will learn how to make the paper rolls and look at some of various shapes and designs they can be made into, then use them to decorate small paper mache keepsake boxes. (Read more about this quilling project in the May/June 2006 issue of Home Education Magazine.)

While quillwork was the hobby of the leisure classes, paper silhouette-making was popular with rich and poor alike. Silhouettes were an inexpensive way to create a portrait of family members, and itinerant artists who cut out freehand silhouettes were common. The handicraft was also practiced at home by skilled amateurs. Quakers of the time, who avoided painted portraits, were allowed by their religion to sit for shadow silhouettes, many of which remain as telling portraits of ordinary Americans. Students will learn about the history of silhouette portraiture, play a guessing game with silhouettes of famous figures such as George and Martha Washington (made by Martha’s granddaughter Nelly) and team up with a partner to make shadow silhouettes of each other. An overhead projector makes a good light source for this project.

Benjamin Franklin invented the musical instrument known as the “armonica” in 1761 after attending a concert played on wine glasses. Franklin’s invention consisted of a row of increasingly-bigger bowls attached to a rod through holes in their centers. The rod was turned with a foot pedal, and music was made by rubbing wet fingers on the bowls as they turned. Students will hear about Franklin the inventor and musician using books and websites, listen to recorded examples of pieces written for the armonica by Mozart and other composers, and try their hand at creating music on tuned water-filled wine glasses.

Copyright © 2008 Kathy Ceceri