Display Opening the Erie Canal by Charles Yardley Turner for students to look at closely, encourage students take a full minute or two to look at the mural panels in silence. Ask students about what they see going on in the two panels. What is the relationship between the people? You may want to give students some background information on who is depicted in the murals. What was significant about the opening of the canal? How does the artist tell the story of the opening of the canal and illustrate the New York region as part of an important and vital international center for commerce and trade? Why do you think that the artist chose to document the opening celebrations of the canal? You can also talk about specific artistic conventions, such as how Turner created a sense of distance by making the people and elements that are in front larger in scale compared to the background, to give the painting a sense of depth.
Students will create an illustration or painting that tells a story about a particular event in history. Their illustration should construct a narrative and have them include things that tell the viewer about the time period (transportation, style of dress, etc…) Start by hanging up three large sheets of butcher or large white paper. They can first sketch out their ideas and then work in teams to lightly sketch the scene onto the butcher paper before filling it in with color (using paints, oil pastels or colored pencils). As in Turner’s piece, each painting could be part of the whole or each could depict a different event.