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Inkameep Art Education Unit

Lesson 1: Petroglyphs and Pictographs

Catalogue Image: 0100, First studies in Indian art. Sketching rock paintings.
[figure 3. Students copying rock paintings]
Catalogue Image: 0100

Discovering images from the past

An early discovery for Anthony Walsh was rock paintings left by First Nations peoples of generations, perhaps centuries earlier. Petroglyphs are images carved in rock surfaces and pictographs are paintings often appearing on rock walls where, if sheltered by an overhang, often survive the wind, rain, and snow for many years. Often these were markings to record a hunt, a significant event such as a spirit quest, or a rite of passage to adulthood for a young person. At other times they might serve to mark an event of historical interest or serve as a territory sign.

First principles in teaching

For the children at Inkameep, the ancient markings must have been significant, and to their parents and grandparents as well. Here is an art form with personal and cultural significance and relevance for the students. Some might say this is a first principle for teaching begin where the students are. Today, we might call those horseback rides into the hills, a field trip or educational excursion. The research began with a trip to the site where the teacher engaged students in recording through sketching the designs. Figure 3 is a photograph of Francis Baptiste (left) and Ernest Baptiste (right) engaged in sketching the pictographs. The drawings were taken back to the classroom and mounted above the blackboards as shown in the photograph below. Occupying a place of prominence in the classroom, the sketches brought the outside in. The drawings provided validation for the students as artists and their culture as important. Through this activity, there was a sense that the school belonged to the children and to the community.

Catalogue Image: 1963-113-017, Rock Paintings.
[figure 4. Student drawings of rock paintings]
Catalogue Image: 1963-113-017
Catalogue Image: 1963-113-011-d2 , Four School Designs
[figure 5. Student design work]
Catalogue Image: 1963-113-011-d2

There was an important second step in Anthony Walsh's method, the drawings were not left as history but made alive for students as they adapted the designs for present use as they were applied to apparel (moccasins) and other utilitarian items (bags). Revitalizing one's culture through interpreting and innovating is an important theme in education. In Walsh's words "and so a start was made."

In the above example we see some of the simplified images. The identity of some may be guessed while others are difficult to recognize. It is likely that the student, Bertha Baptiste, felt some kind of connection with the people that created these markings and perhaps a connection with the images themselves.

There are design works (figure 5) created by the students that may draw inspiration from the pictographs or perhaps they came from a more immediate source in designs found on local baskets and blankets. Likely this is a drawing exhibited in 1934 by the Royal Drawing Society.

Creating and responding ideas for the classroom

  1. Many students have in their homes, an item of some significance to their family, one that was purchased or made by a grandparent or relative. The item might be a fabric work such as a quilt or crotched shawl; it might be a hand-carved duck or cane; it might be a souvenir purchased abroad on a trip. These could form the basis for a discussion about the unique artistic features as well as age, provenance, and stories of their acquisition or purchase. Alternatively, the teacher might plan a field trip to a heritage museum. In either case, students would be asked to sketch the item(s) as a form of study of their cultural or family history. These drawings are of rather public objects and images.
  2. Keepsakes are commonly associated with important memories. Many students have items of personal significance: small gifts received from friends such as a valentine or friendship bracelet; photographs of special moments such as a graduation, an award for achievement; or words that represent hopes and aspirations. It might take time to reflect and acknowledge the importance of these and what to choose if some were to be included in a container or memory box. Select a small container such as a chocolate box to be decorated; some items will fit within the box quite easily while others will have to be drawn, photographed or photocopied; others items may be represented by writing or even creating small-scale replicas. The contents may remain concealed as personal but the outside of the box should be designed in a way that gives some hint as to the character of the owner.
  3. There are many ways to approach the development of a personal logo. One might involve inventing a font to write your name or initials. Still another might be to explore symbols of your cultural heritage an animal symbol representing tribal identity or clan, an object one might find on a family crest, or a new flag representing all the flags of countries from which your ancestors have come. Logos are all around us and normally they are designed by graphic artists to represent everything from large corporations to charitable organizations and sports teams. Developing a personal logo and wearing it for one day in school would give students a sense of self, as unique and independent of corporations such as Nike and MacDonald's.

Resources: Web Sites and Books

The Lascaux site in France
This is enjoyable and provides a virtual tour through the famous caves painted some 40,000 years ago.

The Canadian Rockhound Magazine site: The Mystery of B.C.'s Rock Art Paintings
This on-line article by John Ratcliffe is very informative, providing a fine introduction to pictographs in British Columbia.

The Provincial Museum of Alberta of Human History and Archaeology site: What is Rock Art and where can I see it?
While the information deals with sites largely scattered around southwestern Alberta, the information would aid in understanding rock art in many regions of Canada and beyond.

Canadian Council for Geographic Education
This website is used as a teaching resource; three lesson plans are provided for teaching about petroglyphs and pictographs.

The Vaseux Lake site in the south Okanagan Valley
There are numerous pictures in this web site. There is interpretive information with a list of references and links to other BC rock art sites.

Writing-on-Stone Provincial Park, located in Southern Alberta
The site is well illustrated, and provides a brief history and description of the area and the Blackfoot people, links to other petroglyph sites, and a virtual tour of the Milk River Valley and the rock art.

BCLee's Rock Art
The website has many excellent photographs; most are from the Southwestern United States.


Dewdney, S. & Kidd, K. (1973). Indian rock paintings of the Great Lakes. Toronto, ON: University of Toronto Press.

Keyser, J. (1992). Indian rock art of the Columbia Basin. Seattle, WA: University of Washington Press.

Hill, B. (1984). Guide to Indian rock carvings of the Pacific Northwest Coast. Surrey, BC: Hancock House Press.

Wooding, F. (1982). Wild animals of Canada. Toronto, ON: McGraw Hill.


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