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Cultural Cups


Work of Art: Coconut-Shell Cup

Subject Area: Art

Time Frame: Two to Three Classes (45 minute periods each)

Lesson Objectives:

The students will be able to:

  • create their own "drinking" vessel from papier-mâché.
  • experiment with different shapes for drinking vessels and different patterns for them.

Relevant TEKS:

Knowledge and skills. Complete TEKS for 6th grade art.

1. Perception: a.
2. Creative expression/performance: a. and c.
3. Historical cultural heritage: b.


  • water
  • flour
  • newspaper
  • string
  • foil
  • balloons
  • glue
  • poster board


Introducing the Work of Art

Coconut-shell cups were indispensable to the daily aristocratic ritual of drinking hot chocolate and were produced in large quantities from the seventeenth century onward.


Coconut-shell cups were indispensable to the daily aristocratic ritual of drinking hot chocolate and were produced in large quantities from the seventeenth century onward.

Technique or Process

Coconut shells were decorated with all kinds of engraved motifs and equipped with silver bases, handles, and rims, conforming to the traditional Western design of a cup. The carved decorations used on the coconuts' outer surface tended to be geometrical motifs and figures of animals, birds, flowers, etc., according to the styles and fashion of the time.

Cultural Roots

Legend would have it that the coconuts were cut, hollowed out, polished, and decorated by the inmates of the San Juan de Ula jail in the port of Veracruz. However, given the large number of these objects within colonial Mexican homes, they must have been made in many parts of New Spain and not merely by groups of prisoners.

Link to image on exhibition web site - Coconut Shell Cup

  • Have students view the coconut-shell cup. Discuss how it was used and how it was created.
    1. What was the function/purpose of this work of art?
    2. Which group of Mexican citizens would use this cup?

  • Discuss the decorations that adorn the cup.
    1. What is the first thing you notice about the cup?
    2. What might the ornate decorations represent?
    3. Does the design fit into the Mexican culture of the time period?

  • Discuss traditional and contemporary patterns and motifs.
    1. What are some of the items we use today for the same purpose?
    2. Who are the individuals that use such items?
    3. How do these items compare in relationship to this coconut-shell cup.

Art Activity:

  • Students will create a papier-mâché vessel (cup). To make papier-mâché you will need" balloons, water, flour and 1" strips of newspaper. Mix flour and water in a large bowl (1 part flour to one part water) until it makes a smooth paste. Dip in the newspaper strips, one at a time, and lay the coated newspaper on the balloon. Smooth out the wrinkles and continue to place coated newspaper over the surface until completely covered.
  • While the papier-mâché is drying, create a stand for the cup using poster board. Paint the stand. After the papier-mâché is dry, pop the balloon. Glue string in a pattern onto the cup. You can use the string to create geometric designs, shapes or figures. After the glue is dry cover the cup in foil and lightly rub the foil so that the pattern of the string will show through. You can also use the other end of a paintbrush to create recessed designs in the cup.
  • The students will compare their work of art with the coconut-shell cup from the exhibition.
    1. Now that you have replicated the work of art, what skills, techniques and talents when into producing your cup?
    2. Which of these skills would have been used by makers of the coconut-shell cup?
    3. What other skills did they use that you did not in making your cup (engraving, hollowing out shell, etc)?
    4. What types of decorations did you use in making your cup? Does it represent the current trends of our time?
  • What about the coconut-shell cup in the exhibition?

Evaluation Procedure:

Each papier-mâché cup should be covered with foil with a string pattern and have a painted base.

See assessment matrix.

Extension Activity Ideas:

Social Studies: Decorations that could be fashionable at that time
Health: How chocolate affects the body
Science: How hot chocolate was made at that time or the composition of the materials in the cup


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