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Providing Background - Teaching Points
A hand-coloured postcard of Cobalt's first public school ca. 1906
A cross-curricular learning opportunity in arts and social studies/history.
This lesson is relevant to Grades 5 - 8.
Relevant Curriculum Expectations
Canada and World Connections (Grade 5 & 6): use of primary sources, identify Canada's economic and social links to other regions of the world; Canada: A Changing Society (Grade 8): economics/immigration as factors shaping Canada.
Understanding of era-specific art forms, significance of black and white vs. colour photography, appreciation of the impact of changes in technology on artistic expression (Arts); Exploration of the cultural context of postcards; immigration, mobility of labour (Social Studies).
The painting of a 2-dimensional work to produce a facsimile of a hand-coloured or tinted postcard.
45 - 60 minutes (divided into two sessions, the first to introduce the topic and select an image and the second to colour it).
Providing Background - Teaching Points
- The boomtown era of Cobalt's history coincided roughly with the 'Golden Age' of postcards. The popularity of postcards exploded early in the 20th century, mostly due to the introduction of the divided back, allowing the sender to write a message on the back of the postcard.
- The silver rush brought a huge influx of people from all over the world into Cobalt so postcards would have been a popular way of keeping in touch with friends and family back home.
- At that time, the technology to produce colour photographs had not been developed. In order to create colour postcards, photographic studios would hire artists to paint over the black and white photographic image. These artists would be of varying skill levels.
- Artists used a variety of techniques, from a tinting effect achieved through the use of translucent pigment, to re-touching photos with charcoal, watercolours or even oil paints. Some artists would just highlight certain features with colour and others would do the entire image.
- Artists would often embellish or enhance photographs or postcards based on aesthetic, as opposed to historical, values.
A black and white postcard of Prospect Street in Cobalt, ca. 1905
A postcard with the same image that is hand-coloured. This postcard presents a good example of artistic license, as it is unlikely that the tents in the background would have been striped.
A very lightly tinted image of the Cobalt Public School
A postcard depicting Cobalt Public School with a much more vivid colouring
A sepia-toned postcard of the Temiskaming Mines, Cobalt, ca. 1905
A hand-coloured postcard showing the same view of the Temiskaming Mines, ca. 1905
An example of a hand-coloured postcard of the popular Cobalt Square, ca. 1906
An example of a hand-coloured postcard of a street in Cobalt showing the Imperial Bank
For a brief history of the postcard in Canada and a good collection of early postcards from the Hamilton area:
"Vintage Postcards of Hamilton"
http://www.hamiltonpostcards.com/index.html (Accessed September 20, 2009)
For a brief but comprehensive history of the postcard in the United States as well as some good examples of postcards:
"Greetings from the Smithsonian: A Postcard History of the Smithsonian Institution. http://siarchives.si.edu/history/exhibits/postcard/chronology.htm (Accessed September 20, 02009)
Each student will need:
- A copy of a black and white historic photograph. Students could select a photograph of their choice from the Gallery section of this website.
Ideally, the photograph should be copied onto higher card stock paper so the paints do not soak through the paper. If such paper is not available, students could be given normal paper and encouraged to use pencil crayons.
- A selection of acrylic or transparent watercolour paints. Students will need a supply of water to dilute paints and clean brushes.
- A palette to mix colours (depending on skill level). A paper plate would suffice for a palette.
- Small sized paint brushes for fine work and paper towels.
- Each student should first have an opportunity to examine the section of colour postcards in the Gallery. Most can be found in the Curriculum section.
- Students then select an image to colour/paint. Students should be reminded to choose images with interesting features and a good balance between light and dark tones (the lighter the detail, the easier it will be to colour).
- Once an image is selected and printed, students should consider which details of the image they might want to highlight.
- Students carefully apply crayon or paint to their image.
- Remind students to sign their work.