Any chance the main focus could be printmaking?
Currier and Ives was a printmaking firm. While I don't recommend
WikiPedia for research, this article looks pretty good:
Currier and Ives didn't do the actual painting - this was a
printmaking firm with hired artists (to my knowledge).
Having the children do lithography (using litho-sketch) is probably
out of the question. Any chance they could do scratch foam prints and
hand color those? They wouldn't be able to use water colors as water
based inks wouldn't hold up, but maybe colored pencils?
Another option - What about black pen/fine point marker drawings?
Photocopy those onto better quality paper (that what is customarily
used in the photo copy machine) and they could hand color those.
How would these be mass produced today? Using modern technology. Scan
and digitally reproduce.
As far as theme? What kind of scenes are important to THEM (the
students)? Currier and Ives were keen on what would be appealing to
the people of THAT time period. I have never, never been an advocate
for "in the style of" lessons - and never will.
Sorry I did not post this sooner, but I have been VERY busy myself.
Besides, I have been out of the classroom for 10 years and my mind is
a bit fuzzy, too (chuckles).
Feel free to use this information any way you wish.
I have cut the calendar pictures into 2 or 3 inch squares depending of the
size of the picture, numbered them for each picture, then mixed them all
up. I then gave a piece to my students along with a larger piece of
square paper 4x4 they then drew a grid on the calendar and paper to draw
the picture or they could free hand draw, rendering it in colored
pencils. I have three classes of 8th grade students so some had parts of
pictures in each class so some couldn't find their matching pieces until
they finished. To display when they were finished I had them match the
numbers on a large piece of construction paper taping thier piece in
it's place. It is fun to see how their pieces match the pieces around it
or maybe not. LOL After all pictures are completed I take up the
originals tape them onto another piece of paper so they can see the
originals in tact.