Friday, May 06, 2011

Tribal Art Adventures in Elementary School

This week, Susanne and I gave a presentation to the third and fourth grade art classes at J. Colin English Elementary School in North Fort Myers.

We presented Australian Aboriginal art to the third graders and African Tribal art to the fourth graders.

What well-behaved, attentive and interested audiences they were!

Our Australian program covered dot paintings from the Central Desert, bark paintings from the top end, carved, poker-burned animals, pottery painted by Aboriginal women, didgeridoos and boomerangs. We even showed them a dot-painted emu egg.

For the fourth graders, we concentrated on masks from West and Central Africa. Among those presented were masks from Bule, Guru, Senoufo, Dogon, Marka and Tchokwe. We let the students touch the masks and inspect the insides as well as the outer surfaces.

The exhibits were well-received and treated respectfully.

An interesting aspect of the presentation was a discussion of "spirit". How do you explain the concept of "spirit" to a fourth-grader? Especially when references to God or religion seemed inappropriate in a classroom setting.

The instructor came up with what I thought was a brilliant explanation. So much so that I told her I shall use it myself in the future. She likened it to the feeling that happens when you think you are alone, but you realize you are not alone. You are surrounded by people who share your ideas and values. That is the manifestation of the spirit that resides in the mask when it is danced.

That explanation resonated with me. I think the kids "got it."

We enjoyed doing these presentations. Susanne has taken them to schools before and, when we had our physical gallery on Sanibel, we invited classes to come for private presentations.

Now, we must take our collection and interest to the students, reinforced by information we present on our websites; for African and Australian art, for jewelry art from native artisans, for pueblo pottery and for carvings from Zuni, Cochiti and other Native American carvers.

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