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Symbols and Honoring Boxes (Spaces)

Lesson plan written by judy butzine, June 2009.

The primary Goal of this lesson plan is to create a material form that objectifies the act of giving honor and respect to the processes of Personal Remembrance and Intention Setting.

  1. The first objective is to examine and explore symbols that have existed since the beginning of human history and predate language  as metaphors for abstract ideas.  This art history lesson will be introduced through beads as Symbols, a universal means of human connection from ancient to contemporary times.

  1. Participants are guided through a multifaceted, art-making process that not only instructs in the structural fabrication of an honoring box (space), but also stimulates critical inquiry and problem solving.  The creation of the honoring box-rich in personal symbols and images-evolves in response to the questions one explores, and intuitive and thoughtful responses uncovered.

  1. Finally, there is an assessment of this art-making process through a written or verbal reflection upon one's understandings and the relevancy of this creative process to one's own life experiences.

Project Activities (Beads & Honoring Boxes)

First read this paragraph and reflect on its meaning:
From the beginning of human history, people around the world have had a need to make visual their memories, pleasures, pains, hopes and searches for one's identity and meaning in one's life.  We may term this process of reflection and transference into physical form the creative expression of visual arts.

Symbol From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

A symbol is something such as an object, picture, written word, sound, or particular mark that represents something else by association, resemblance, or convention. For example, a red octagon may stand for "STOP". On maps, crossed sabers may indicate a battlefield. Numerals are symbols for numbers.  All language consists of symbols. The word "cat" is not a cat, but represents the idea of a cat.  Psychology has found that people, and even animals, can respond to symbols as if they were the objects they represent.

The earliest recordings of visual images are ancient cave paintings

A.  The Artworld of Beads—background information
Bead History lesson—think about What is a Bead? and Its importance since the beginning of time...

The word "Bead" comes from the Saxon word "Bidden" meaning to meditate or pray immediately suggesting a spiritual connection.

Beads are small material representations of ancient and contemporary cultures. They are symbols of identity and status; they are used in barter and exchange; they are amulets and talismans, they are ornaments, and they are used in rituals and ceremonies. Beads are associated with linking people together in communities, and with making immediate statements about values, ideas and beliefs.

An article in an ASU Research News Brief publication from the College of Liberal Arts documented a dig in Africa that Dr. Marean had actively participated on and its findings. Ostrich eggshell beads were identified along with Stone Age objects at a site in the Serengeti Plain, Tanzania, Africa. "Beads were not previously believed to be present in the Middle Stone Age and nothing like this has been published in Africa." The chronology of these beaded forms is still being considered, but it is believed that they predate the other known beaded artifacts of over 35,000 years in age. When asked what the possible significance of these beaded forms was, Dr. Marean's reply is as follows:

"As a means to bodily adornment, I think beads are clearly an expression of symbolic activity. What exactly that symbolic activity may be varies by culture, and is contextual to a people, time and place. So I would be a bit more guarded about suggesting universals about the meaning of beads. Our main concern is that they are a clear indicator of symbolic thought, and such thought is mandatory in language." (e-mail, to Bead Museum, 6/24/04) Dr. Curtis W. Marean, ASU Professor at the Institute of Human Origins, Dept. Anthropology, Arizona State University, Tempe.

Beads are very diverse in their materials and uses:

In cultures around the world beads are held and thoughtfully touched as a means to connect to higher energies during meditation, bringing comfort or perceived protection to the owner.  They can be made from objects in nature or synthetically created in the modern world.

Milagros – Miracles - Milagro (votive) - From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Milagros (also known as an ex-voto) are religious folk charms that are traditionally used for healing purposes and as votive offerings in Mexico, the southern United States, other areas of Latin America, as well as parts of the Iberian peninsula. They are frequently attached onto altars, shrines, and sacred objects found in places of worship, and they are often purchased in churches, cathedrals or from street vendors.

Milagros come in a variety of shapes and dimensions and are fabricated from many different materials, depending on local customs. For example, they might be nearly flat or fully three dimensional; and they can be constructed from gold, silver, tin, lead, wood, bone, or wax. In Spanish, the word milagro literally means miracle or surprise.

Bead bracelet in upper right corner was used as a teaching aid for women in barrio communities to instruct in breast cancer prevention. The silver and brass beads are Milagros.

Eye Beads
Beads ornamented with spots or other circular designs that represent eyes signify a very large proportion of all beads made in antiquity.
It is thought that the earliest glass eye beads were a spot with contrasting rings. This 'spot and ring' design—occasionally a spot alone—made in glass and added to a basic glass bead eventually became the standard type of glass eye bead. The eye symbol has always played an important role in mythical beliefs and practices. Eye beads are commonly thought to have the power to prevent evil or bad luck.  This primary function is that of protecting against the 'Evil Eye.' There may have been instances in which eye beads were appreciated more for their decorative value. Any symbol in use for a long time is likely to become part of convention and tradition and lose some of its magical application in the process.

Varieties of eye bead: eye beads made from bone served as needles to sew together nets for fishing; eye beads created in Venice were used to buy slaves in Africa; contemporary eye beads; eye beads made from glass, bone, clay and wood.

36" X 48" acrylic painting by Luis Gutierrez, 1997, Angel in Nature

There are thousands of symbols that may vary from one culture to the next.  Before you create your bead strand, think of the symbols in your world that are important to you and the stories they reveal.

Consider color as well-how do specific colors affect you? The hot colors of the sun and red may bring you warmth.  The cool colors of the ocean, sky and grass may promote comfort and peace for you. If you are doing this activity with others share stories about your personal symbols.

Participants will purchase or have available multiple kinds of beads and choose to create a bead strand that has meaning and significance to them through shape, design, material and color of the beads.  These bead strands can go within the honoring space (box) you will now make or be attached to the form itself.

B. Creating the Honoring Box - The Art History background of Honoring Boxes (Spaces)

Honoring boxes take on many shapes and sizes and have existed in cultures around the world for thousands of years.  They represent a material form that objectifies the act of giving honor and respect to the processes of Personal Remembrance and Intention Setting.

Peruvian Wooden honoring box Anglo artist with European heritage
Honoring box to Frida Kahlo & Nahual symbol for "Infinity" Tibetan Gau box

This component of the lesson plan Introduces the art history lesson of the Honoring Box as an assemblage or installation, an honoring space that is usually larger in scale and transforms an environment.

Left: an honoring box created to give respect and honor to Cesar Chavez. Right: a communal Honoring Box project by ASU students giving intention to their work in non-profit management.

These are both assemblages using mixed media, but contained within one 3-dimensional structural element.

An honoring space created to the artist, ASU professor emeritus and civil rights activist, Dr. Eugene Grigsby, Jr.

Left: a home honoring space giving respect to the Interconnectedness of ALL life. Right: an ofrenda at the Arizona Historical Society Museum November 2, 2007, giving honor to the ICON of the Virgen de Guadalupe.

These honoring spaces illustrated above are installations which describe an artistic genre of site-specific, three-dimensional works designed to transform the perception of a space.

Our Lady of Guadalupe — The idea of ICONS as symbols.
From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia -

An image of Our Lady of Guadalupe.

Our Lady of Guadalupe, also called the Virgin of Guadalupe (Spanish: Nuestra Señora de Guadalupe or Virgen de Guadalupe) is a 16th- century Roman Catholic Mexican icon representing an apparition of the Virgin Mary. It is perhaps Mexico's most popular religious and cultural image. Guadalupe's feast day is celebrated on December 12, commemorating the traditional account of her appearances near Mexico City from December 9, 1531 through December 12, 1531.

The Virgin of Guadalupe has also symbolized the Mexican nation since Mexico's War of Independence. Both Miguel Hidalgo and Emiliano Zapata's armies traveled underneath Guadalupan flags, and Nuestra Señora de Guadalupe is generally recognized as a symbol of all Mexicans. The Mexican novelist Carlos Fuentes once said that " may no longer consider himself a Christian, but you cannot truly be considered a Mexican unless you believe in the Virgin of Guadalupe."

Nobel laureate Octavio Paz wrote in 1974 that "the Mexican people, after more than two centuries of experiments, have faith only in the Virgin of Guadalupe and the National Lottery"

C. Art Making Activity


As an act of art making, the honoring box holds meaning. Its context is the rich history of humanity. We are still people seeking to find answers to the challenges of life – our place in this world and the reason for being. judy butzine

Creating honoring boxes with youth as small personal honoring 'spaces' is a concept that has its root in many cultures and is manifest in ofrendas, altars, shrines and the Tibetan Gau to name a few.

The learning experience centers around several processes:

  • A brief art history lesson about "honoring boxes (spaces)" and symbols through the artworld of beads to provide youth with a context for thinking about values, ideas and beliefs -- about self and the world
  • The creation of individual honoring boxes and a strand of beads
  • Reflection and sharing about the honoring boxes
  • Exhibition in the community for many to view-the recognition of the significance of an individuals life to a community.

Participants are prepped to have photos, text mementos and objects for the creation of their honoring boxes.

The Intentions for this youth experience may include::

  • a holistic and authentic learning process in which participants encounter ideas, events and materials in meaningful contexts with complex, life lessons at the heart of the learning process
  • to cultivate an environment of respect for all
  • programming that is social, collaborative and democratic, encouraging learning in a socio-cultural context, preferring cooperative over competitive approaches to achieving goals and creating a shared space for meaningful work with a collective purpose. It is about understanding self in relation to others and community
  • programming that deals with themes that have a universal focus and promote dialogue and/or creating a rich, interdisciplinary learning experience in safe community settings
  • to empower participants with new skills to provide conversations that instill ongoing trust, ability to PLAY, and reinforce goal setting
  • to provide participants with arts modalities to engage in self-expression, enabling students to understand more about themselves, providing opportunities for students to reflect on feelings, thoughts and new information

MATERIALS AND SUPPLIES for Honoring Others, Honors Ourselves Material & supply costs will vary.

  • Card board boxes 6"x6", spray painted in various colors
  • Magazines, variety of content, should be able to collect without purchase
  • Beads of all colors, designs and materials
  • Feathers, pods, pipe cleaners
  • Scissors
  • Colorful markers
  • Colored paper
  • rubber cement
  • colored wire, elastic for stringing beads, ribbon
  • Clear strapping tape to connect tops and bottom of boxes or form a peak

The Visioning questions (these will change depending upon the context for creating the Honoring Box or Space):

  • Building upon my personal strengths and the resources of my expanded community, what future do I envision for myself?
  • What are the steps I might take to realize my personal vision?
  • What tools, resources and people provide me with information about myself, my strengths and my future?

The processes for the art making activity:

Go through the magazines provided on the tables thinking about the above questions, tear out images and text that have personal meaning. You may also use the paper, markers and other items to create your own symbols and thoughts. (Words, phrases and images will appear spontaneously from one's intuitive consciousness.)

  • Decide what the focus of the box is, what is most important to you? identify that image/object and put it in a central place in the honoring box.
  • Constructing the box – use the tape provided to secure the bottom, top or expanded framework!

  • Other materials provided: feathers, pipe cleaners, seed pods, colored paper, markers.
  • Participants also select beads that can be adhered directly to box or created into a bead strand.

    Make sure to use picture of self in a prominent position on or in the box.

  • Let participants know they will have almost an hour and a half to work on their boxes. If they don't finish, they will be able to take materials with them.

    Assessment through Reflection upon the significance of your completed Honoring Box:

  • What new understanding did you gain about your personal strengths and resources?
  • In what way will this material expression you created be a meaningful reminder of your intentions to honor yourself?

    When this art-making activity is completed, additional elements and objects may be added to the Honoring Box over time to reaffirm one's self and intentions, to recognize achievements and celebrate progress toward goals.