The following is a draft of an article I hope to submit to Arts and Activities, an art education magazine. It also gives you an idea of what was going on last week.
October 23, 2009 Tegucigalpa Honduras
The campus of Discovery International School is quiet this afternoon. Just a few short hours ago it was a kaleidoscope of color, sound and fragrance celebrating United Nations Day. Our pre-K through grade 12 students’ toured parent hosted booths representing many of the 30 nations that are home to our student body. Maps, posters, handicrafts and a taste of nations from sushi to cheesecake were sampled with the mellow tones of a marimba band in the background.
The eighth grade visual arts students decided to contribute a traditional Honduran sawdust mosaic carpet, decorando las alfombras tipicas de Semana Santa, at the entrance of the school. I had found a post card picturing people working on one of these and shared it with my students. Several shared their memories of seeing the carpets created on streets for holy week processionals.
We discussed the significance of the carpets, why they were made of dyed loose sawdust. We compared them to the sand mandal created by Tibetan monks to mark important events. Both of these arts remind us of the impermanence of all things. They help us focus on our beliefs and philosophies and remind us to appreciate and value the present.
As a group we agreed on a simple design that would represent the spirit of the United Nations. Students made stencils of the shapes we would use. We had just finished a unit on graphic art and block lettering, skills that helped in the cutting of the stencils for the words.
In the art room we found two large cardboard boxes filled with bags of sawdust dyed in brilliant colors. Working from the postcard and the memories of mosaic carpets viewed in the past we made our first experiment. We used the sawdust dry and leveled and pressed it down with concrete smoothing tools borrowed from the maintenance department. Our experiment weathered the night winds and morning dew. An observer suggested that we dampen the sawdust before we spread it out. That worked even better.
We waited until the week of the event and began work on the “carpet” during Wednesday art class. Students were released from four other classes, came early and stayed late and worked up to the opening of the event Friday morning. The project took a total of nine hours to complete.
There were many challenges in the process; figuring out how to spread the sawdust, without disturbing the sawdust base, making adjustments to the design when we ran out of colors and finally coming to the end, ready to stencil the words around the boarder only to find we had no sawdust left. What could we use, spray paint? We didn’t have any. We tried some baking soda from the art room but it was too fine and difficult to put down. Finally our watching cafeteria managers came to the rescue with bags of table salt. It worked perfectly!
The carpet was ready to greet our visitors just minutes before the event started.
The student met their objective, a brilliant display communicating the mission of unity and support of the United Nations. But more important students from many nations, worked together, worked through difficulties, solved problems. They overcame frustrations with the materials and at times with each other. The enjoyed the pride of accomplishment and as difficult as it was at the end of the day they gingerly stepped onto the carpet and “danced” it away with their feet until it was thoroughly mixed and swept away, Reminding us of the impermanence of all things, but leaving us with the joy of the memory.