Brazilian Folk Art Sculptures


As a result of this lesson, students will be able to:

  • Develop an appreciation for Brazilian folk art.
  • Interpret Brazil’s history and culture during the colonial period by viewing selected works from the Museu Casa do Pontal and other resources.
  • Examine their own culture and compare it to Brazil’s history.
  • List activities of daily life representative of contemporary culture.
  • Discuss the role of ceramics in documenting history.

Discussion Question(s)
  • What story does Brazilian Folk Art tell?
  • How does art record and communicate the human experience?
  • How does your own art reflect your life?

Materials Needed


Photos of Brazilian Folk Art Tableaux. See Folk Art Images.

  • Option 1 for ceramic classrooms: Clay, clay tools, underglazes, and clear glaze.
  • Option 2 for situations where a kiln is not available or clay work is impractical: Polymer clay in various colors (brand names include Fimo or Sculpey) and simple tools such as Popsicle sticks or sharpened dowel rods. Polymer clay can be hardened in a regular oven. These tableaux will be smaller: 6 cm x 6 cm x 6 cm.

Related material also on this website

Set Up and Introduction


  • Discuss the role of ceramics by various cultures to record significant events, mythology, and everyday activities. The Ancient Greeks recorded their history in narrative form on their pottery, including famous battles as well as scenes from every day life. The ancient Egyptians created panoramas and the Brazilians created folk art tableaux. See Folk Art Images (attached pdf file). In all cases, the details of a culture have been recorded for posterity.
  • Discuss the image above and what it tells us about Brazil’s history. Most students will recognize this image as slaves shackled together during the Middle Passage from Africa to the Americas. Many students in the US think only of the English Colonies in the South of the United States and the island colonies when they think about slavery. An estimated four million Africans were transported to Brazil in chains, as in the image above, compared to only half a million who were transported to the Southern US states. Brazil’s history has been profoundly affected by the Portuguese involvement in the slave trade. The above tableau is a powerful documentation of this wrenching experience.
  • Students will look at the Folk Art Images (or other resources from above) and discuss other types of events that have been documented.

  1. Students use the Folk Art Analysis Worksheet to continue to analyze Brazilian Folk Art and to identify characteristics of folk art.
  2. Continuing to use the worksheet, students record their own daily activities over the last few days. This can be assigned as homework or as a classroom assignment as time permits.
  3. Using the Internet, news magazines and/or their own cameras, students collect images of everyday life and of significant events in contemporary America. Students share images and brainstorm possible tableaus. Alternatively, the teacher could collect images and provide them to the students.
  4. Students select an activity to depict in small-scale (6” x 6”x6”) ceramic sculpture. Students sketch ideas for tableau and refine design before beginning construction in clay.
  5. Students construct small-scale ceramic sculpture using sculptural techniques. A demonstration by the teacher of various sculptural techniques is recommended, with emphasis on the strengths and limits of clay as a sculptural medium. Students should know how to join clay pieces using scoring, slip, pressure and reinforcing coils. They should also understand the brittle nature of clay and the need to avoid long thin extensions of clay.  Students should be encouraged to create figures in their own style, which can range from realistic to cartoonish to stylized. Students can be reminded that folk art is produced by artists with little to no formal training. Numerous details should be included to clearly communicate the event being depicted and what that event looks like today. The tableaus should become a documentation of an aspect of American culture.

Extending the lesson: 

  • Students exchange their work with other art classes or with writing or history class. Students view sculptures and write an informative essay describing the same activity.
  • Students research folk art from the United States. Students compare and contrast Brazilian culture of the colonial period with US culture from the same time period.
  • Students create a Power Point Presentation depicting their completed tableau and comparing and contrasting it to a Brazilian folk art tableau dealing with a similar activity.

Assessment and Wrap Up


  • Sculptures are evaluated by students and teacher using a rubric (attached).
  • Work is exhibited as a group with images of comparable Brazilian images behind the 3D sculptures.