Third Saturday Online: Decorated Containers

Celebrate Pacific Island Heritage Month at the UMFA. Let’s study the intricate patterns and textures that adorn many artworks and functional objects in the UMFA’s Arts of the Pacific collection. 

We will draw inspiration from elaborately decorated containers like bowls, jars and even a baby carrier to decorate a container in your own house using pencils, pens, markers, and any other creative tools you can find. 

Before getting started on the art project, let’s look at some beautiful containers from Indonesia and Papua New Guinea. 

a wide conical ceramic bowl sits upside down with the bottom facing up. The outside of the bowl has incised swirled designs of lines and ovoid shapes. The raised lines are a gray color and the carved spaces between alternate colors of rust, gold, and white.
Papua New Guinea, East Sepik Province, Sawos peoples, Bowl, 20th century, ceramic and pigment
Purchased with funds from The Phyllis Cannon Wattis Endowment Fund, UMFA1998.22.2

This is a picture of the bottom side of a bowl. Look closely at the lines and shapes decorating the surface. Often patterns in art from the Pacific Islands are inspired by nature: leaves, flowers, mountains, water, clouds, etc. These types of curved and flowing patterns are often called “organic.” When there are patterns that are straight and angular they are called “geometric.” What type of pattern do you see here? What do you think the artist was inspired by to create these patterns?

a tall wooden cylinder stands upright. It has carved bands on the top half of the outside of the cylinder. The bands consist of carved lines that are curved, spiral and other organic shapes.
Unidentified artist, Indonesia, Borneo Island, Kalimantan, Dayak peoples, Lime Container, 20th century, Bamboo, plant fiber, and pigment
Purchased with funds from Friends of the Art Museum, UMFA1987.001.013

The many countries that make up the Pacific Islands are just what the name of the region says: they are islands surrounded by the Pacific Ocean! Can you find any water patterns on this lime container? The container is used to hold lime (a mineral made of calcium) that is chewed with betel nuts. What other organic or geometric patterns and lines can you see? 

the trapezoidal back of a backpack-like object. The back is covered in a beaded design of creatures with faces and octopus-like tentacles swirling in a bi-lateral symmetrical pattern. There are two string of small turquoise beads capped with a larger round shell bead on the upper left and upper right of the backpack. Attached on the upper center is large shell bead with two smaller beaded strings coming out the middle.
Unidentified artist, Indonesia, Borneo Island, Kalimantan, Kenyah or Kayan peoples, Beaded Baby Carrier, 20th century, Wood, plant fiber, glass beads, shell, and textile, gift of the Christensen Fund, UMFA1999.55.50

This container is used to hold a baby. The beautiful lines and patterns are made from attaching beads, a very long and difficult task. Why do you think the artist decorated this baby carrier with such a lovely and time-consuming design? The artist has used many organic shapes to create a vibrant pattern. What do you think inspired them to create this pattern? What will you be inspired by in or outside your home to decorate your container?

Let’s Decorate a Container

You will need:

  • A container from your house, for example:
    • Old shipping box
    • Cereal box
    • Soup can
    • Pencil case
    • Paper bag
  • Ruler
  • Pencil
  • Markers, colored pencils, or other writing instruments

1. Gather supplies

2. Sketch out a design using a pencil

  • You can use a ruler to help
  • Think about what pattern symmetrical, asymmetrical geometric, organic?

3. Color in the pattern and shapes with colored markers or crayons

4. Outline the pattern with a darker color if you want to make the pattern stand out. 

5. Now you can use your beautiful container to hold something precious or important to you. 

A completed decorated box with a pacific island inspired design


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