Celtic Art Artists on Tour Cindy Matyi, Celtic Designs & Music S

Artists on Tour
Cindy Matyi, Celtic Designs & Music
Celtic Art
Study Guide
Written by Cindy Matyi
Edited & Designed by Kathleen Riemenschneider
Cincinnati Arts Association, Education/Community Relations, 650 Walnut St., Cincinnati, OH 45202
Phone 513-977-4116, Fax 513-977-4150
www.CincinnatiArts.org, [email protected]
From the weapons of Bronze Age tribes to the complex and beautiful illuminated manuscripts of the
Celtic monks – local artist and musician Cindy Matyi’s intricate paintings will intrigue you while drawing
you into their messages of peace, ecology, and creativity.
Classroom presentations will be directed at the different grade levels and each class will
develop projects related to their skills. Included will be historical information about the Celts
from early Bronze Age through modern times, description of the type of designs used in Celtic
art (spirals, knotwork, zoomorphics, illuminated letters, rectilinear designs) and ways to use
them in the students’ own work. We will also discuss the background of the Celts and what the
term “Celtic” means for us today. We often touch on ecology and taking care of the earth since
ancient peoples, such as the Celts, had respect for nature and its rhythms, which is reflected in
their art. Its interconnective qualities show the relationship and interdependence of humans with
animals and plants, water, earth, air, fire, etc. Students are usually very open to concerns about
taking care of the earth.
Set up:
To set the stage I will display examples of my Celtic artwork around the room. I like to use a
chalk or marker board to illustrate concepts while I am talking. For older children I might bring
slides (I have my own projector and screen if necessary) to give them more examples from art
history. In many cases, I encourage the teachers to distribute drawing materials so the children
can come up with their own creations while I talk. I also bring books and handouts to give them
more ideas.
Get kids seated with help of teachers, pass out drawing boards, markers, crayons, blank
paper and handouts right away with help of teachers or assistants. Sometimes I bring a CD
player with some Celtic music in the background.
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Examples of things I say:
“Today we are going to learn about Celtic art. How many of you have Scottish, Irish or
Welsh ancestors? Well, you don’t have to be Irish or Scottish to be part of the Celtic spirit.
“Who knows where Europe is? Can you name some countries in Europe? Many years ago
tribes of people roamed all over Europe in places like France, Germany, Austria, Hungary…
and they were called Celts. They were fierce warriors, their tribes were often fighting each
other but they were also very good artists – and they made beautiful designs on their weapons,
armor, horses and chariot gear, and on their clothing. They also wore a lot of elaborate jewelry
including large neck rings called torcs, arm rings and large circular pins on their clothing.”
On the board I draw some designs for them – really big! I usually start with circles and turn
them into spirals – both clockwise and counterclockwise. Then I show how to make whole page
designs by connecting spirals. I also show how important the circle is in Celtic ornaments.
Some other symbols I demonstrate are rows of red dots to make things jump out of the page;
faces made of S-curves, and curved sided triangles.
“Celts often put hidden faces into their art especially on their weapons and shields; this was
not just some kind of visual joke. It was their idea of protecting themselves from harm. They
thought it made them stronger than their enemies.”
Then I illustrate a hidden face this way – building up drama as I construct it. I show faces
made of S-curves in front view and profiles. Celtic faces have big eyes on the side of the head,
long noses, small chins and mouths, and ears shaped like the letter C.
“Celts did not draw people, animals or plants in a realistic way. Does anyone have any ideas
why they made their people, animals, or plants look so odd? (Pause for responses.) Well, they
believed in many gods, but they also believed that the supreme god who made people, animals,
etc. would be insulted if they drew them in a realistic way, so they made their people like this…
“...and they often drew snakes and birds combined – they called them zoomorphic. A bird
head might turn into the body of a dog and then have snakes for legs! You can really use your
imagination and come up with some crazy combinations like that. Remember, try not to make
things look realistic – be as wild as you can!”
The kids love to help me make a zoomorphic on the board, using parts of many animals,
great stuff for the imagination and a nice alternative to everyone telling them to make things
look realistic.
“After many years of roaming around Europe, the Celts met up with a very powerful enemy.
Can you guess who it was? (The Romans) They were very smart and clever warriors and they
conquered many of the Celtic tribes. The Celts then started making art that they thought the
Romans would like. But after many years, the Romans lost power and the Celts went back to
their old style of art.”
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Sometimes, if there is time, I tell them about St. Patrick, St. Columkille and the monks who
created the beautiful illuminated texts like the Book of Kells. I have a very nice reproduction of
the Book of Kells I sometimes bring to workshops.
“Does anyone know about St. Patrick? He brought Christianity to the Celtic people of Ireland
and this began a whole new exciting period in Celtic art. The Irish people wanted to make
books of the Gospels and they decorated them in beautiful ways with the same designs that
were used by the ancient Celts of Europe – spirals, peltas, S-curves, palm leaves, etc.
“They made these beautiful books and then they made beautiful covers out of leather or
metal with fantastic designs on the covers. The people who made these books were mostly
monks and they lived in monasteries…” (The students may want to share what they know.)
“They often decorated the letters in books and you can do this with your own initials.”
I have handouts with Celtic lettering and encourage the children to illuminate their initials
by filling in the letters with spirals, zoomorphics, etc. So this helps them to use the motifs in a
composition. Sometimes I show how to make a Celtic Cross – show the circle and cross design
“In addition to spending time making the beautiful books in monasteries, the monks were
very brave and adventurous warriors for God also. They traveled all over Europe telling people
about Christianity and some of them, like St. Brendan, also may have sailed to America in small
boats made out of animal skin and wood – many years before Columbus and even before Leif
“What do you suppose happened to change all this great work of Celtic art? There were
fierce people from far away who began attacking the monasteries and killing the monks and
destroying the books. Who do you think they were? (the Vikings) They heard about the beautiful
metal work and treasure of the monasteries and they thought it would make great presents
for their Viking girlfriends so they sailed down from Scandinavia and attacked many of the
monasteries that were on the coasts of Ireland, Scotland, Wales and Northumbria. So then the
monks started carving Celtic art on large stone crosses instead because they figured these
were so heavy the Vikings could not carry them away. After many years of this, there were not
many monks left who could do Celtic art and a lot of the tradition died out.”
Then, I show some examples of modern Celtic art and discuss how this centuries old style
keeps returning, shape-shifting but still keeping its motifs intact while adding others.
“So its up to us to keep the tradition going – I hope you will all learn about Celtic art and use
it in your own pictures at home after this class.”
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