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Lesson Plan: Engaging the Elements

An indigenous Alaskan mask with a ferocious smile decorated with hanging wind chimes, feathers, and charms

North Wind Mask (Negakfok) 
Early 20th century
Alaska; Yup'ik
Wood, paint, feathers; 45 1/4 x 21 3/8 x 17 7/8 in. (114.9 x 54.3 x 45.4 cm)
The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, The Michael C. Rockefeller Memorial Collection, Purchase, Nelson A. Rockefeller Gift, 1961 (1978.412.76a, b)

Collection Area: Art of Native North America
Subject Areas: Geography, Visual Arts
Grades: Elementary School
Topics/Themes: Art and the Environment, Communities


Students will be able to:
  • identify ways works of art reflect and engage the natural environment;
  • analyze the relationship between the human and natural worlds in their community; and
  • personify one aspect of the climate (e.g., rain, clouds, snow, etc.) in a work of art.

National Learning Standards

Visual Arts
NA-VA.K-12.1 Understanding and Applying Media, Techniques, and Processes
NA-VA.K-12.3 Choosing and Evaluating a Range of Subject Matter, Symbols, and Ideas
NA-VA.K-12.4 Understanding the Visual Arts in Relation to History and Cultures
NA-VA.K-12.6 Making Connections between Visual Arts and Other Disciplines

NSS-G.K-12.5 Environment and Society

Common Core State Standards

English Language Arts
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.CCRA.SL.1 Prepare for and participate effectively in a range of conversations and collaborations with diverse partners, building on others' ideas and expressing their own clearly and persuasively.
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.CCRA.SL.2 Integrate and evaluate information presented in diverse media and formats, including visually, quantitatively, and orally.

Questions for Viewing

  • Take a moment to look closely. What do you notice?
  • This mask was created by Yup’ik speakers of western Alaska. What comes to mind when you think about this environment? After the freeze each winter, members of this community host ceremonies designed to maintain a balance between the human, animal, and spirit-world featuring performances by costumed dancers.
  • This mask represents the spirit Negakfok, the north wind. Recreate the wind using your body. Take in a deep breath and slowly blow it out. How might a gust of wind impact this mask? Like a wind chime, the clatter of the wooden rods attached to the bottom of the mask gives voice to the north wind.
  • How do changes in the weather from day to day, and season to season, affect your daily life (i.e., clothing, activities, mood)? What positive or negative qualities might a windy day present?
  • Recreate the facial expression of this figure. What do you notice? What might this tell us about this community’s relationship to the natural environment?


Activity Setting: Classroom
Materials: Paper, pencils, recycled materials (i.e., cereal boxes, bottle caps, etc.), scissors, glue and/or tape, paint, brushes, and water
Subject Areas: Geography, Visual Arts
Duration: 90 minutes

Consider the weather in your community. What kind of weather do you enjoy the most (or least)? Why? Choose one aspect of the weather on which to focus (e.g., rain, clouds, snow, sunshine, etc.) and create a list of qualities you associate with it. Using your list as a source of inspiration, create a mask representing this element. As you work, consider how your selected materials, colors, and facial expression convey your ideas.


Carroll, Colleen. The Weather: Sun, Wind, Snow, Rain. New York: Abbeville Kids, 1996.

Fienup-Riordan, Ann. The Living Tradition of Yup'ik Masks: Agayuliyararput = Our Way of Making Prayer. Seattle: University of Washington Press, 1996.

Meech, Julia. Rain and Snow: The Umbrella in Japanese Art. New York: Japan Society, 1993.

Nunley, John W. Masks: Faces of Culture. New York: Abrams, 1999.

Objects in the Museum's Collection Related to this Lesson

Banda Mask
19th–20th century
Guinea; Nalu peoples
Wood, pigment, raffia, modern textile; 12 13/16 x 52 1/2 in. (32.5 x 133.4 cm)
The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, The Michael C. Rockefeller Memorial Collection, Purchase, Nelson A. Rockefeller Gift, 1964 (1978.412.307)

Slit Gong (Atingting Kon)
Mid- to late 1960s
Commissioned by Tain Mal, carved by Tin Mweleun (active 1960s)
Vanuatu, Ambrym Island, Fanla village
Wood, paint; 175 1/4 x 28 x 23 1/2 in. (445.1 x 71.1 x 59.7 cm)
The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, Rogers Fund, 1975 (1975.93)

Author: Claire Moore
Affiliation: The Metropolitan Museum of Art
Date: 2010

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