Are you looking for a beginning-of-the-year project that brings your school community together while celebrating the diversity of your student population as well? If the answer is no, then don’t read any further … just kidding! If you are, then you may want to check out the work of Libs Elliott.
Libs is a quilt maker and textile designer who creates wonderfully varied designs while working mainly with an economic vocabulary of triangles, squares and diagonal lines. The visual unity and variety in her work can be used to speak to the duality necessary in a strong community.
The repetition of triangles and diagonals mirrors the commonalities and appreciation for the whole school community, while the changes in direction and composition of her motifs addresses the diversity that a community needs to celebrate for everyone to feel appreciated and valued.
These are great aspects to emphasize anytime, especially at the beginning of the school year when kids are coming back together after a summer apart.
Her quilts, alone, are visually engaging and the compositional process she incorporates is fascinating, too. She explains it way better than I ever could: “All the quilts are randomly designed using a programming language called Processing. The project began in 2012 as a collaboration with designer and technologist, Joshua Davis (joshuadavis.com), who provided the original code framework. Using Processing allows me to quickly edit the code and generate random compositions from simple geometric and traditional quilt block shapes.”
I don’t know about you, but I don’t have those programming capabilities at school, but my kids are random generators! They have parameters to follow, but each student does things differently and will place their shapes in different spots on their quilt square. They will also put their quilt squares on the larger sheet in a random way too!
Students have 30 minutes to complete their part of this collaborative project at the beginning of the year. Everyone starts with a 6″ x 6″ square, a large pre-cut triangle, and two 3″ x 3″ squares. I exerted some control by having each class work with certain colors, so that when we put the pieces together, we had a subtle change of color over the length of the paper quilt. You could give the students more control and choice by offering a wider array of colors for them to choose from, if you wish.
The children may keep the large triangle intact, or fold it in half and cut on the fold. They fold each of the small squares corner to corner to make triangles and cut on the fold: four triangles total. Then they take at least one of their small triangles and fold in half and cut. I emphasize to not do this to all of them because they will lose some variety in size. Students may cut one of those smaller triangles even smaller if they choose.
Students are then encouraged to play with the arrangement of shapes. They can layer and overlap, or not. The only requirement is that their composition cannot go outside the larger square-base shape. When they are satisfied with their design, they glue it in place. I show them how to leave things where they are and do the gluing on the paper square: Glue the small onto the medium, then medium onto the big. This way, the tables don’t get too funky with glue.
The final step is for the students to put glue on the back of their quilt squares and bring them over to the white 24″ x 36″ sheet in the middle of the room. Students are responsible for looking at their design and what has been laid down before them, and to decide which direction their piece will face and where it will be located in response to those factors.
Once all the classes have participated, I like to bring back a couple of well-engaged students from each class to help assemble the classroom portions together to make the final paper quilt install.
I did this project with over 20 classes, grades 3–5. Everybody takes part, and feels successful and valued as an artist and community member. We install these pieces in our auditorium to serve as a vibrant, colorful temporary public artwork that showcases both the unity and diversity present in our school community.
As regular readers may know, I focus on living artists in my curriculum for numerous reasons. One being the fact that you can connect with the artist, and kids can receive feedback and encouragement from the very artists they are studying.
After completing this project, I contacted Libs Elliott through her website (www.libselliott.com) and shared it with her. She was blown away by the scale and scope of our students’ work and, in turn, shared it with fans of her work via various social media outlets.
In the past year, we have seen other schools around the world take on this project with great success—like-minded art teachers and students creating vibrant works for their own school communities.
Recently, the project has come, in a way, full circle. Libs Elliott was in New York for Design Week 2016 with her work, and she facilitated a people-powered, random-generated fabric quilt design at her space during the week. It was very cool to see how an artist who inspired us to create beauty at Zamorano, would then be inspired enough by our work and process to approach her work different way to inspire a different community to come together.
Elementary students will …
• use play and experimentation to create an interesting composition.
• work well with others as they engage in collaborative projects
NATIONAL ART STANDARDS
• Creating: Conceiving and developing new artistic ideas and work.
Brainstorming multiple approaches to a creative art or design problem.
• Presenting: Interpreting and sharing artistic work.
• Responding: Understanding and evaluating how the arts convey meaning.
• Connecting: Relating artistic ideas and work with personal meaning and external context.
• Tons of construction paper: 6″ x 6″ and 3″ x 3″ squares in a variety of colors
• Larger backing paper: 18″ x 24″ sheets or roll of butcher paper
• Glue sticks, scissors
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A&A Contributing Editor, Don Masse, is a K–5 visual arts teacher at Zamorano Fine Arts Academy in San Diego, Calif.
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