Tuesday, December 10, 2013

art of Onfim...

Onfim as warrior in battle on horseback
Blog reader Jim sent links to pages about Onfim's drawings which were discovered in Russia in the 1950's inscribed on birch bark. These medieval  drawings from the 12th century show his family and friends, scenes of battle as witnessed or imagined by a 7 year old boy. We know his name, as he had been practicing his letters before his wandering mind led him into his artistic expression. The drawing above shows Onfim on a horse in battle. He's written his name above his figure  so we can see how art has always been used by children to imagine and plan their own futures and come to an understanding of their own place in life.

Froebel recognized that art, as expressed by the play with blocks, and other Kindergarten gifts, including drawing had three functions, addressing life, knowledge and beauty. Pogressive education was to develop the whole child. These days, American schooling is aimed toward developing that intelligence that can be most easily measured through the use of standardized tests. Just as administrators and politicians failed to understand the full depth and breadth of what was learned by students in wood shops, they've also failed to understand the full depth and breadth of what well trained teachers can do if restraints are cut free and children are engaged in the arts.

Onfim's Dad and Mom
The blind assumption among some is that teachers are of no greater importance than the checkout clerks at Walmart. Under that blind assumption teachers could be replaced by scanners programmed to measure the ins and outs of learning. But what about art? The whole child is not expressed in words alone. And a picture is worth a thousand of them.

These scraps of birchbark (there are hundreds of them) were preserved for hundreds of years in mud, the oxygen free ideal medium to prevent decay of organic materials.

Don't you just love Onfim's  illustrations of hands? Some have many more fingers than normal, and the hands are outsized, showing their huge significance in daily life. Why would Onfim's father 13 fingers and his mother only 6? Thanks, Jim, for the links.

Make, fix and create...


  1. Thanks for the links and the drawings. Those really made me smile.

  2. Jonas, Me too. They are delightful. And it is interesting that the combination of language and pictures tell a story that neither could by themselves.

  3. These struck a deep chord in those I showed them to! So glad you enjoyed them too!