Teaching Ideas

Early Learning

For Ages 3-5

Art Discussion

  • Search for familiar geometric shapes in this clay sculpture: circle, triangle, rectangle.
  • What sounds do you hear when it rains?
  • As a group, create the sounds of a rainstorm together—rub hands together, snap, clap, and stomp feet in succession.
  • This represents Tlaloc, the Mixtec [MISH-tek] god of rain, thunder, and lightning. Why would rain be important to the Mixtec people? The people believed he would make it rain when they needed water for their crops. His name means “he who makes things grow.”
  • What animals do you see on or near the Head of Tlaloc?
  • The Mixtecs are an Ancient American people whose homeland is in Mexico. They believed that Tlaloc lived high up in the mountains in caves. They would burn incense on top of this sculpture’s head as an offering to the gods.
  • This giant ceramic head was found in a cave along with two toads and a large ceramic hand. Imagine walking up a mountain and suddenly discovering Tlaloc with smoke coming out of his head. How would it make you feel?

Encouraging Dialogue

For Students K-12

  • If we had lived among the Mixtec or the Aztec peoples, we would immediately have recognized this gigantic head as the rain god. What are the special features of this sculpture? Start at the top and list what you see. Look for a crown-like headdress, goggles, snakes, and a mouth that looks like an animal’s mouth—with teeth that are now broken. Which features do you think identified the head as the rain god?
  • Compare and contrast Head of the rain god with Mask, possibly of Tlaloc (1979.2). How are these representations of the same deity similar and different?
  • Tlaloc is the Mesoamerican god of rain. Create a list of all the reasons rain might have been important to the Mixtec. In what ways is rain important to you?
  • This sculpture originally functioned as an incense burner, and the smoke from the incense was an offering to the rain god. What is its function now, in a museum? How do you think the Mixtecs who created it would have interacted with it? How do we interact with it?

Making Connections

For Students K-12

  • The Head of the rain god that is in the Dallas Museum of Art was used to burn incense. Many different cultures and religions use incense burning in rituals. For example, incense burning was incorporated into rituals of ancient Egyptians and Mesoamericans, as well as present-day Buddhists and Christians. Investigate one culture that incorporates incense into its religion or ritual and design a presentation for your classmates. How do different peoples and cultures use incense?
  • Research “incense.” Find out which trees are used to produce incense and where they grow. How could burning incense be a way of connecting to the gods?
  • What kinds of materials can be used for incense? What makes incense aromatic? Research our sense of smell. How do scents or fragrances affect us? What makes our sense of smell possible? Think about the science of experiencing a scent and write a report on your findings. Write an essay arguing that the sense of smell is the most important of the five senses. Use your research to support your argument.
  • Other Mesoamerican and non-Mesoamerican cultures, such as the ancient Egyptians, Greeks, and Romans, worshipped deities of rain. Research other examples of rain gods. What do all of these deities have in common? Why might various cultures have gods dedicated to rain? Think of a natural phenomenon, such as rain, wind, hail, etc. Design a sculpture to represent that phenomenon. What elements of that phenomenon can you incorporate into your sculpture?
  • In Mesoamerica, frogs are associated with rain because they are amphibious and chirp before rain falls. Design an imaginary animal that is associated with rain. What characteristics of this animal are related to rain or water?