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Lesson Plan for The Fabergé Eggs: Mementos of a Doomed Dynasty
The Things We Treasure: An Exhibition

The significance of the Fabergé eggs can be interpreted in several ways. They can be appreciated for their fine craftsmanship and for the family memories they represented to the Romanovs. On the other hand, their fragility and extravagance can symbolize that family's world of insular, imperial privilege. The things we choose to treasure reflect our personal values, but they also mirror the time period and culture in which they are collected.

In this lesson, students will create an exhibition of items treasured by their families and reflect on the personal and cultural significance of these items. The exhibition process can be divided into Social Studies, Visual Arts and Language Arts lessons, either by working with the teachers of each of those subject areas or by teaching as one unit. Through the development of this exhibition, students will investigate the following Life-long Learning Question: What do the things we treasure tell us about ourselves and the culture in which we live?



Grade Level: Middle to High School
Subject Areas: Social Studies, Visual Arts, Language Arts
Lesson Length: one week



Learning Goals

Students will:

1. analyze the way treasured items reflect personal values as well as values of a specific time and culture. (Social Studies Standard 4)
http://www.ncss.org

2. use principles of design to create an exhibition that communicates the personal and cultural significance of their family's treasured items. (Visual Arts Standard 1)
http://www.mcrel.org/standards-benchmarks/standards/visarts/S1.html

3. combine written accounts of personal histories with interpretations of treasured items as they relate to cultural values. (Language Arts Standard 2)
http://www.mcrel.org/standards-benchmarks/standards/langarts/S2.html



Assessment of Student Knowledge and Skills

Students will be able to:

1. record the memories related to a personal item and use this information combined with additional research to determine the cultural significance of the item.

2. create a display of personal items using design principles of space, color and texture to create visual interest and to enhance understanding of the personal and cultural significance of the items.

3. write a short paragraph that uses records of personal memories about the items to support analysis of the item's significance within a culture.



Lesson Materials and Preparation



Procedures

SOCIAL STUDIES

1. After watching the Treasures of the World episode on the Fabergé Eggs, discuss with students the significance of the eggs from various perspectives:

  • What did the eggs mean to the Romanov family personally? (i.e. tradition, beauty, wealth, privilege, importance of family memories) fragile remembrances
  • What did the eggs mean to Fabergé? (i.e. craftsmanship, artistry, innovation, prestige, loyalty to the Russian nobility, leadership in his profession) young Fabergé
  • What did the eggs come to later symbolize for the Soviets? (i.e. indulgences of the Russian Czar, contrast to the plight of the Russian people, source of income, examples of Russian art) fate of the eggs
  • Why are these eggs still treasured today?
  • From our current perspective, knowing their historical context, what do the eggs symbolize? Fabergé Eggs Introduction

2. We keep items that we believe will remain special to us in the future. We treasure these items and sometimes build collections of them. Have students ask their parents or older members of their families to identify an item that they have treasured for a long time. Reassure the students that these items need not be expensive and precious, such as a Fabergé egg. Rather they can be something very commonplace - a photograph, or souvenir from a trip or event - that the person has chosen to keep as a memento. (Explain that the class will make an exhibition of these items of personal mementos, and therefore students need to make sure the owners will allow these items to be brought into class.)

3. Have the students interview the owners using the Treasured Item Interview Sheet. Suggest that they may want to tape record their interviews to capture precise quotes.

4. After students have interviewed a parent or older relative about a treasured item, have them share what they learned with the class.

5. Record the information given by the students on the board or on an overhead projector and facilitate organizing the answers into different categories, such as items that relate to:

  • memories of a place (i.e. seashells from the beach)
  • memories of an event (i.e. photographs, party favors)
  • memories of a person (i.e. gifts from a grandmother, family album)
  • uniqueness or rarity (i.e. coins, stamps)
  • personal interests (i.e. items that represent a hobby or occupation)

6. Divide the students into groups based on the different categories of treasured items they plan to bring to class. This will give a thematic structure to the exhibition, and it will help students organize their thoughts about the reasons they collect these items.

VISUAL ARTS

7. Assign sections of the classroom to the groups with appropriate workspaces for each (for example, tables to work on.)

8. Have students share with their groups more information about the family items they will bring in to the classroom (i.e. size, shape, color, display requirements).

9. After getting a sense of what each student's item looks like, the group should diagram the space to accommodate all the items for display. Cover the surface of the display area with butcher paper so students can sketch the placement of the items.

10. Guide the students to think of creative ways to display their items, other than placing them directly on the table. Suggest that they imagine a box of space rising one to two feet from the table and placing the item within that box of space using small pedestals. Have the students consider:

  • how to vary the shape (i.e. height and size) of the pedestals to make the display more visually interesting;
  • how to accommodate special needs such as fragility or other special features of the items to ensure their safety; and
  • how to consider relative placement of the items to be sure each can be easily seen.

11. Ask the students to be aware of color and texture as aspects of the display. Have them consider:

  • how to use color to complement the item being displayed (i.e. using complementary colors around the item to make it stand out.)
  • how to set a mood or add symbolism in the display (i.e. using neutral colors for display of an item from nature.)
  • how to use texture to enhance the display.
  • how to balance visual interest without detracting from the items being displayed.

12. Encourage students to take notes and diagram their display ideas for later reference.

LANGUAGE ARTS

13. To prepare for writing the exhibition labels, the students will need to consider:

  • how to describe the personal significance of the item for its owner, based on information gathered in the interview, and
  • how to interpret the significance of the item in relation to the time period and culture in which it was collected.

(To address the second consideration, you may want to explain the meaning of "interpretation." Interpretation is an educated guess of the meaning or importance of something based on visual analysis, factual information and personal responses to the item.)

14. To develop an interpretation of the item's significance within the culture, students may need to go back to their interview notes and focus on the answers to the question: "What was life like in the world when you decided to keep this item?" The students may need to do additional research about the time period, place or culture from which the item came.

15. Once the students have gathered enough information, have them use the following guidelines to develop their labels:

  • Write a synopsis (two to three sentences), from the owner's point of view, about why this item is important.
  • Incorporate at least one quote into this synopsis to enable the owner's voice to come through.
  • Write a two to three sentence conclusion about how you (the student) see this object as representative of the time period or culture from which it came. (It may help the students to envisions themselves finding this item a hundred years into the future and trying to decipher why someone held onto it for so long. This may help them distance themselves from the object to become better cultural observers.)
  • Both the synopsis and the conclusion should be based on information the student has gathered from the interview and any additional research. (An example might be: the treasured item is a ticket stub to a Beatles concert. The student should write about the personal memories associated with the concert as well as the impact of the Beatles on American pop culture in the 1960s and 70s.)

16. Students can go through pre-write, write, peer review and edit stages for their labels, and use the Six-Trait Writing model to assess their work. http://www.kent.wednet.edu/staff/creed/index.html

VISUAL ARTS

17. Once the labels have been written, have the students install their displays using the plans they drew up in the earlier class.

18. Guide the students' use of boxes, colored paper, cardboard and fabric to create platforms and coverings for the display space.

19. Have them consider, too, how to display the labels alongside the items in the collection so that it is clear which label goes with which item.

20. When the displays are completed, invite parents or students from other classes to view the exhibition. The owners of the treasured items may especially enjoy hearing the students' interpretations of the cultural significance of their personal memorabilia.



Vocabulary

display
exhibition
installation
interpretation
item
label
pedestal
symbolic
thematic
treasure



Web Links

Further resources for object-based writing:

Lesson Plan: Description of Familiar Objects Using Mythology
http://www.thegateway.org/plweb-cgi/fastweb?getdoc+gem-test+gem-test+4329+24+wAAA+%28objects%29

Lesson Plan: Observational Writing
http://www.thegateway.org/plweb-cgi/fastweb?getdoc+gem-test+gem-test+4013+3+wAAA+%28objects%29


Further resources for learning about Fabergé eggs:

History of the House of Fabergé
http://www.faberge.spb.ru/faf/history.htm




Extension Activities


Multiple Interpretations of History

Grade Level: High School
Subject Area: Social Studies, History

There are many different ways the story of the Fabergé eggs can be told. A collector or connoisseur of decorative arts may focus on appreciation of the intrinsic beauty of the eggs. A social historian may see the eggs as representative of the Czar's preference for material pleasures over responsible administration of his country. This was a period of transformation in Russian history. Things were changing. The Russian royalty was trying to hang onto the past, as was Fabergé in many ways, while the Russian people were pushing for much needed change.

Discuss with the students: In the story of the Russian Czars, how is their desire to hold onto their past represented? Are the Fabergé eggs symbolic of the Czars' desire for tradition? Why did Fabergé create such intricately detailed objects during the industrial revolution, a time when man was learning to use machines to mass produce? Why was it important to Fabergé that he create unique variations with each egg? Are there instances in our culture today that indicate a desire to hold onto the past during a time of rapid change? Are there items that represent or reflect that desire? What do we have today that is nostalgic, and why is it important to us? What values do these items represent, and how do these values harmonize or conflict with the "technology revolution?" Have the students consider the points of view of an anthropologist, art historian, politician, economist, etcetera.


Deliberations in History: Reflecting on the Past and Affecting the Future

Grade Level: High School
Subject Area: History

As part of a unit on different forms of government (i.e. democracy, autocracy, oligarchy, theocracy, etc.), discuss the decisions Czar Nicholas made during his reign. Have students deliberate whether Nicholas should have met the demands of the Russian people or continued to uphold the autocracy. Have students consider other possible historical scenarios such as: What if the Czar had abdicated early on or had not been killed? What might have happened to the Fabergé eggs? Would they be valued as they are today? Have students break into groups and take sides to argue what decision the Czar should make at Khodyka Meadow in 1896 or Bloody Sunday in 1905 and the long-term historical consequences in the worlds of politics and art if he had made different decisions.


Creating a Family Tradition

Grade Level: 7 to 8
Subject Area: Social Studies

The giving of precious and intricately crafted eggs was an important Easter tradition for the Russian Czar Nicholas and his family. It symbolized not only the closeness of their family, but also their desire to hold onto a glorious past.

Discuss with the students: What traditions do you have in your families that help bring and keep you together? Do you celebrate important holidays, like Easter for the Czar and his family? What family traditions would you like to start? Specifically, what gifts would you like to give each other? These could be gifts you want to receive, but also gifts you want to give to every member of your family. These could be precious objects or special things you do for one another. Think about a gift-giving tradition you would like to continue throughout your life. How would these gifts help your family members remember one another as you grow older? Create a "gift certificate" to give the other members of your family, explaining why this gift-giving tradition will be important to your family. Thinking about which items to include also means speculating about what meaning and value objects may have in the future.


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