Mooreville students use fish to make art

MOOREVILLE – What can you do with a dead fish, a roll of rice paper and several canvas bags?
A class of Mooreville Elementary students found out when they created art and learned more about culture, math and science.
The students in Rhonda Shumpert and Jennifer Rooker’s fifth-grade class spent a week with artist-in-residence Tina Lutz earlier this month.
Lutz, director of the GumTree Museum of Art, used Japanese fish printing to teach the students about Japanese culture and teach them math and science skills.
“We were having fun, but at the same time, we were learning a lot of skills,” said Rooker, fifth grade inclusion teacher. “It gives the kids a hands-on foundation that stays with them. When they physically do it, that skill sticks in their mind.”
The students spread out a roll of rice paper and calculated its length by counting the number of tiles it covered and measuring the length of one tile. They discussed the ecosystem, Japanese traditions and the anatomy of a fish.
They covered a dead fish with paint and rubbed it on a canvas tote bag to make a fish print upon the bag. They made rubber stamps with their personal logo and imprinted that logo upon their project.
“So many people are visual, and I think when you attach a visual element to math or science, it really helps students recognize that theory or that project, and they carry it with them through life,” Lutz said. “They will remember it a lot longer than if it is a problem on the board or a definition to remember.”
Lutz spent two hours a day with the students over five days. Her appearance was made possible by a grant from Very Special Arts of Mississippi that was requested by Gena Yarbrough, Lee County Schools elementary art lead teacher. Very Special Arts of Mississippi aims to provide art experiences for students with disabilities, but its projects are designed for all students.
The students’ artwork will also have a lasting impact. The 26 canvas tote bags they created will be used to hold portable science projects that will be stored in the school’s library and can be checked out by parents or teachers at the kindergarten to fifth-grade school.
Those projects should be available in the spring and were funded by a grant Rooker received from Exceptional Progress in Education through Curriculum and Technology, or ExPECT. Each bag will contain a different project.
“We wanted to make that home connection as well,” Rooker said. “Students know that it is important at school, but it is also important at home. When parents take time to do this with them, then they know how important their education is.”
The bags will be called FISH bags for Families Investigating Science at Home. Experiments will include using instruments to predict the weather, designing and constructing electrical circuits and forming solids, liquids and gases. The totes may also include books, videos and games that pertain to specific skills.
Lutz said she’s been making fish prints for nearly 25 years. The tradition, known as Gyotaku, began when Japanese sport fishermen looked for a way to compare their catches in the days before taxidermy.
“It is a really good project to do with children,” Lutz said. “I always like children to complete a project they feel good about. Fish printing is one of those projects where kids get excited and really don’t know what to expect until they put paint on the fish and make the print. Then they walk around on cloud nine.”
Rooker said the class also would expand its lesson on Japanese culture by eating a Japanese dish with chop sticks. She said it is a project her classes can continue in future years.

Contact Chris Kieffer at (662) 678-1590 or at

Chris Kieffer/NEMS Daily Journal

Click video to hear audio