Students learn of different cultures from art
DANVILLE – Fiber artist Charlotte Main has fermented mud with a Yoruba tribesman in Nigeria, made paper with a Japanese Living National Treasure and dyed cloth with a "blue man of the desert" in Morocco.
This month, she has been at Liberty Elementary School in Danville, teaching pupils about the different countries she has visited, people she has met and cultures she has experienced through art.
"I want them to be able to recognize art from different parts of the world," said Main, the school's latest artist-in-residence. "When they go to a museum or just open a book, they can say, 'I know where that came from.'"
Main has been at Liberty three days a week since April 10, and her last day will be May 10. Her residency is being funded with $3,000 grants from the Illinois Arts Council and the Danville Community Public School Foundation.
Liberty's artist-in-residence program is now in its 32nd year. Past artists have included dancers, musicians, storytellers, painters, poets and puppeteers. Many have left behind permanent works that they created with pupils, including mosaic stepping stones in front of the school and two ceramic-tile murals in the foyer.
"We don't have an art teacher," Principal Diane Hampel said. "So this is a great opportunity to add to the kids' education."
A Medinah resident, Main specializes in weaving baskets and making paper. She has been teaching her craft and other art forms in schools for the last 25 years.
Main's projects are inspired by her trips abroad. She and her scientist husband have visited 64 countries and have been to every continent but Antarctica.
"I always stay with native people," she said, adding she wants to be immersed in the culture and study alongside her hosts to learn how they create art.
"They practice the craft the way it was originally done," Main said.
She stayed with a Yoruba tribesman in Nigeria to learn Batik, the art of melting hot wax on cloth and dying it, and mud cloth, the art of fermenting mud, then painting with it.
In the Sahara Desert, she lived with a Tureg, who taught her how to dye with indigo dye.
"It's a dying process that is done without water," she said.
During her residency at Liberty, Main works with each class once a week on art projects that tie into their curriculum. For example, Nikki Boyer's class on Thursday learned a little about West Africa through a metal-embossing project.
Students laid a pattern – all Nigerian door designs – over a piece of tooling foil, then traced the pattern with a pencil. Then they turned over the foil and drew their own designs.
"Honey, that's beautiful," Main said, complimenting a girl on a drawing of a bird.
Then she stopped another girl who was drawing hearts.
"It's your culture to draw hearts and stars, but it's not West African," she explained.
In May, the pupils will color the foil with permanent markers, then mount them for display.
Main also has been working daily with a core group of kindergarteners and first- and second-graders – 10 in all. They're painting flowers on a large canvas that will be hung at the school.
Main also is working with the group on a community outreach project, which is a component of the residency program. On May 8, they will go across the street to the Hawthorne Inn, one of the school's Partners in Education, and make Chinese fortune cookies out of clay with the senior residents.
Students said they have enjoyed making the art projects and learning about different countries.
"We got to learn new words," said 10-year-old Daeshia Lyles, who learned "hakuna matata" is Swahili for "no worries."
"We got to do fun stuff like mush clay around a pen," Daeshia continued. "(Main) baked them to look like glass. We got to put our creativity into it."
Hampel said teachers enjoyed Main's visit, too. "They're learning new ways to teach the kids. Most of us don't have art backgrounds and sometimes feel intimidated by it ... When you can watch something being demonstrated, you get over your fear."