Found 3,566 Resources containing: Art teachers
This canoe appears to be the same canoe shown in National Anthropological Archives photo NAA INV 05264600, DOE Oceania: West Polynesia: Samoa: NM 151640 05264600, National Anthropological Archives, Smithsonian Institution. This photo has the caption: "Non-Native Man in Outrigger Canoe (Bought by Lt T. Dix Bolles) and Holding Paddle on Lawn", and appears to have been taken on the Mall near the Smithsonian Arts and Industries building. This canoe also appears to the same canoe photographed at the same spot and the same time? as the one shown in a National Anthropological Archives photo: NAA INV 04924400, DOE Oceania: Amer Polynesia: Hawaii: School Children 04924400, National Anthropological Archives, Smithsonian Institution. This canoe is definitely of Samoan manufacture, per Dr. Adrienne Kaeppler, though the NAA photo identifies it (apparently erroneously) as having belonged to Princess Ka'iulani of Hawaii.
An intramural transfer of specimens document filed in accession file 36053 dated February 18, 1965 lists this boat as part of a group of boats transferred from the Division of Transportation to the Division of Ethnology, Department of Anthropology. It is identified on the form as a Samoan fishing canoe.
Canoe is described in U.S. National Museum Bulletin # 127, p. 285: Samoan fishing canoe. A type of canoe used by the natives at Tutuila, Samoa, for bonita [sic, should be bonito] fishing. It is an open, sharp-ended, outrigged dugout [sic] canoe, with round bottom, one end [the stern] rising in a long easy curve from the bottom, the other sharp and hollowed at the extremity [the bow], so that it projects forward at top and lower corner; small balance log attached to two outriggers; no sail; two paddles. Dimensions of canoe. - Length, 23 feet 7 inches; width, 19 inches; depth, 16 inches; outriggers, outboard, 3 feet 8 inches; balance log, 13 feet 10 inches long, 4 inches diameter; paddles, 4 feet 4 inches long, 9 inches extreme width of blades. Collected by T. D. Bolles."
Red paint on exterior. Canoe hull is not a dugout but rather constructed by the sewn-plank technique. This would be a 2 or 3 person canoe per Regina Meredith of American Samoa, siapo (tapa) maker, artist, and teacher.
Helen Keller became blind and deaf when she was nineteen months old, but with the help of her teacher Anne Sullivan, she learned to communicate via tactile sign language. Keller went on to graduate cum laude from Radcliffe College in 1904 and write The Story of My Life (1903), an acclaimed autobiography that has been translated into dozens of languages. She remains an admired symbol of the human spirit’s power to overcome adversity. In 1924, Keller became the official spokesperson for the newly formed American Foundation for the Blind and, thanks to her successful lobbying, gained inclusion of a clause in the Social Security Act of 1935 that made the blind eligible for grant assistance. Sculptor Jo Davidson created bust portraits while closely observing his subjects and their movements. These studies of Keller capture both the artist’s process and the elegance of Keller as she converses with her companion Polly Thompson (1885–1960).
Nacida en Tuscumbia, Alabama
Helen Keller quedó ciega y sorda a los 19 meses de nacida, pero con ayuda de la maestra Anne Sullivan aprendió a comunicarse mediante un lenguaje táctil de señas. En 1903 escribió La historia de mi vida, una celebrada autobiografía que se ha traducido a docenas de idiomas, y en 1904 se graduó cum laude de Radcliffe College. Keller continúa siendo un símbolo admirado del poder del espíritu humano para superar la adversidad. En 1924, Keller se convirtió en portavoz oficial de la recién creada Fundación Americana para Ciegos y gracias a su activismo se logró incluir en la Ley de Seguridad Social de 1935 una cláusula que daba a las personas ciegas el derecho de recibir ayuda económica. Para hacer sus retratos, el escultor Jo Davidson observaba con atención a sus modelos y el modo en que se movían. Estos estudios de Keller revelan dicho método, captando la elegancia de la retratada mientras conversa con su acompañante Polly Thompson (1885–1960).
A routine for structuring analysis of creative works .
Each Layer Consists of 4 Possible Elements to Seek Out and Identify in the Work
NARRATIVE The story, the back or pre story, the other or hidden story, the message
AESTHETIC The appeal (what pulls you in?), the reward or take away, the skill/mastery of the artist on display, the new/different/unusual
MECHANICAL Technique, Form/structure, Methods, Symbolism
DYNAMIC Surprise, Tension, Emotion and Movement
CONNECTIONS To other works (in and out of the medium/genre), to history, to oneself, to the artist's other works or personal life.
Purpose: What kind of thinking does this routine encourage?
The routine provides learners with a structure for looking analytically at creative works through a variety of different frameworks.
Application: When and Where can it be used?
There are many layers through which one can approach or look at any creative work (literature, dance, painting, etc.). Some layers may be more appropriate than others given the work being examined. Part of analysis involves selecting appropriate frames or layers to use in one's analysis. Selecting interesting and unexpected layers can help one understand the work better. Sometimes this means rejecting the obvious layer and starting with one of the other layers.
Launch: What are some tips for starting and using this routine?
After looking closely at a creative work to fully notice what is there, students select a "layer" from the list to use in their analysis. This analysis can be done individually, with a partner, or whole group. Initially you may want to introduce one layer at a time with the whole class so that students have some collective experience using the layers. Initially the analysis should be done verbally so that students hear and can build on other's ideas and contributions. Other possible ways of using the layers are:
1) To identify prominent and hidden qualities: In this work, what layer immediately speaks to you? What makes you say that? Which layers seem more distant? What makes you say that?
2) To compare and contrast: Use the layers to contrast 2 works to see how they relate to one another. Looking at 2 works, where do you see connections as well as differences in terms of the layers?
3) As a sieve: Pick one element from each of the layers through which to explore the work.
4) As a source of questions: Use the layers and their elements to identify questions you want to ask an expert about the work of art.
Notes by Moses Hadas in booklet (4 p.), and teacher's guide by Stanley Solomon (2 p.) inserted in original container.
Read by Moses Hadas.
Related materials may be found in the Moses and Frances Asch Collection, also held by this repository. Related materials may include correspondence between the studio, producers, and/or performers; original cover art designs; original production materials; business records; and audiotapes from studio production.
In 1951, Barbara Rose Johns, age 16, led her all-black high school in a protest against unequal conditions in segregated schools. With counsel from the NAACP, she and her allies later joined the landmark case Brown v Board of Education. But decades after the Civil Rights Movement, the fight started in the 1950s is not done. African American girls are faring worse than other girls on almost every measure of academic achievement, according to a new report.
African American girls are more likely than other groups of girls to be suspended, expelled or held back a year, write the National Women’s Law Center and the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund (LDF). Their report argues that racial and gender discrimination and stereotypes—as well as the unequal distribution of resources, teachers and activities—are to blame.
During the 2011 to 2012 school year, 12 percent of African American female students, pre-K through 12th grade, were suspended. That rate is six times higher than that for white girls. It’s also higher than for any other group of girls and higher than for white, Asian and Latino boys. (20 percent of African American boys are suspended, according to the original report.)
One of the report’s lead authors, Janel George, education and policy counsel at LDF, talked to NPR about how high suspension rates and other discipline disparities can affect education:
What we have is lost instruction time, lost classroom time, disengagement from the school environment, feelings of alienation, and a lot of times we see increased referrals to the juvenile justice system for often minor offenses.
One story we recount in our report is a quote from a young lady who says, "They have different rules for us, whereas other students can commit the same infractions, we will be disciplined harsher."
The result, the report suggests, is a lifetime of struggle for equal treatment and opportunities. In 2010, one-third of African American girls did not graduate from high school on time. In 2013, more than 40 percent of African American women over the age of 25 were living in poverty.
The report praises initiatives for African American boys but asks for more support, investment and attention to be given to African American girls.
Page 16 of Every Little Boy’s Book details the folding of a piece of paper such that "when thrown from the hand, rarely hits the object aimed at, as it generally makes a graceful curve in passing through the air." To modern eyes, the instructions, description and illustration are exactly those of a paper airplane. But Phil Edwards for Vox.com points out that these instructions were printed in 1864, 39 years before the Wright Brothers first flew their airplane.
Humans dreamed of flight long before they put humans in the air. Back in the early 1500s, Leonardo da Vinci had designed a man-powered flying machine. Mathematician Archytas of Tarentum reportedly created a mechanical wooden dove that flew for 200 meters in 250 B.C.E. So paper airplanes flying from the hands of children during the Civil War Era aren’t that surprising — although the book calls them 'paper darts,' not airplanes. But despite the name, the design is very familiar and so was the play, apparently. Edwards writes:
People even used paper darts the same way kids use paper airplanes today: to be annoying. An 1881 description of the New York Stock Exchange noted an unusual punishment: "to throw a paper dart or ball at a member during the session of the Board is to incur a fine of ten dollars." Naturally, people threw paper darts at teachers, too: an 1889 story recalls the many times "a paper dart has glided noiselessly down the room, amidst the suppressed applause and smothered hilarity of the students."
When the term "paper aeroplane" first appeared in the 1890s, the toys it referred to looked more like birds than the aircraft that eventually lifted off the ground. They even included ways to flap the wings. It wasn’t until the 1950s and 60s, when airplanes finally looked like the paper toys of the last century did "plane" fully replace "dart" in the toy’s name.
The lag of that change indicates just how fixated people were to the idea that flying machines would imitate birds. Then again, humans have experimented with a lot of very odd-looking aircraft. Of course, now engineers and designers have truly dialed in the performance of real airplanes as well as the paper variety.
When I was a kid, I wanted to be an ethnobotanist. I wanted to go to the Amazon, talk to people about plants, and have adventures! That passion came from one event: a plant hike at an environmental festival, where a guide took us along the nearby river and pointed out plants—not just their names, but their cultural histories. How did people use them? What stories were told about them? What traditions surrounded them? I was hooked.
The students participating in the 2014 Junior Folklorist Challenge—created by the Smithsonian Center for Folklife and Cultural Heritage and ePals, an educational media company—have the opportunity to find that same sort of “hook.” The challenge is to find tradition bearers in their local communities willing to share their knowledge, skills, and passions. Along the way, students will practice professional skills though the “Folklorist Process,” as described by Smithsonian staff working with ePals curriculum developers.
Using this Folklorist Process, challenge participants will research cultural traditions in their community, document a particular tradition through well-developed interviews and audiovisual media, interpret their documentation to tell the story of that tradition, and present their findings through a short slideshow, video, or podcast posted on the ePals challenge website.
The Center and ePals are providing students with several tools to help them through this process, including “The Junior Folklorist Fieldwork Notebook” and a guide for best practices in interviewing. Smithsonian folklorist Betty Belanus offers advice on field work on the site, and Jim Deutsch, folklorist and co-curator of the China: Tradition and the Art of Living program at the 2014 Folklife Festival, is featured in a video blog defining folklore and encouraging students to participate. Students in China are urged to participate as a component of the Festival’s China program. The website also includes a discussion forum where students can ask Smithsonian staff questions about the Folklorist Process or share their experiences with other students.
Teachers interested in exploring folklore with their classes can enroll in the ePals Junior Folklorist Collaborative Project, which will connect students with other classrooms across the globe in an online interactive workspace. This four-week project will take an hour of class time on the computer each week and runs April 28 to May 23.
Individual students ages eight to eighteen can access these tools on the ePals challenge website and get started right away. Projects are due May 26 and can be submitted on the challenge site. All entries will be published on the ePals website—a lasting record of fieldwork by students about communities and culture. Six winners will be chosen by judges from both the Center and ePals. Prizes include a CD box set from Smithsonian Folkways Recordings, a digital video camera, and a Field Notes pack. For more information, see the challenge guidelines.
For the Center, getting youth involved in studying folklore reflects our mission to research, present, and converse about the traditional knowledge and artistry of diverse communities. For students, it’s an opportunity to experience the rich heritage present in their own communities and explore new interests.
And as Jim Deutsch put it in his final instruction to students: “Above all, have fun and learn something!”
Maria Russell is an education intern at the Center for Folklife and Cultural Heritage.
Over the past few years, Adam Metallo, Vince Rossi and other members of the Smithsonian Digitization Program Office have used 3D scanning to solve a century-old murder mystery, preserve a millennia-old fossil whale site threatened by highway construction in Chile and digitally capture every nook and cranny of Abraham Lincoln’s face, as represented in a plaster mask made just before his death, among other feats.
Now, they’re bringing together dozens of the world’s leading experts on 3D scanning and printing at the Smithsonian X 3D Conference. The event, held today and tomorrow at the Freer-Sackler Meyer Auditorium and simulcast above, is a celebration of the digitization work that’s occurred so far and a discussion of how such technology will transform the Smithsonian Institution—as well as the state of science, museums and education as a whole—going forward.
One of the event’s biggest announcements is the beta release of the Smithsonian X 3D Explorer—a web-based interface that allows users to explore, share and print 3D models of dozens of the Smithsonian’s most remarkable artifacts, with more to follow over the coming years. This technology will allow for all sorts of new uses of historical artifacts and scientific specimens: Researchers can share items with colleagues for analysis, teachers can use virtual objects in classroom lessons and members of the public can get unprecedented access to Smithsonian items, many of which aren’t on display due to space limitations.
The 3D data for the items shown in the Explorer will also be downloadable in full resolution, allowing anyone with a 3D printer to create replicas of these objects at any scale. As a demonstration, the Digitization Office will be creating a full-scale, 26-foot long 3D print of one of the fossil whales from Chile.
“I think 3D printing technology is a huge game changer, because you can actually replicate the three dimensional physicality of an artifact,” says Paul Debevec, a computer graphics pioneer who will be delivering a keynote at the event. “When you’re working on proposed reconstructions of what an ancient artifact might have looked like, for instance, you don’t have to actually mess with the original artifact—you can scan it without touching it, print out what you’ve got, and three different historians can come up with three different ideas how of the item may have once looked.”
The Digitization office is also pursuing plans to construct a state-of-the-art 3D scanning and printing lab at the Smithsonian Arts and Industries Building on the Mall, currently under renovation. “We’re basically going to bring our lab to the public,” Vince Rossi says. “Like the fishbowl at the Natural History Museum—where staff work on fossils—we’re going to bring our 3D scanning efforts out into the public eye, so people can see what we’re working on.” Additionally, in the new space, they’ll make their high-end 3D scanning and printing equipment available for public use.
The conference will feature panels and keynote addresses from dozens of leaders in 3D technology, including Saul Griffith, the inventor and founder of Otherlab, and Ping Fu, the Chief Strategy Officer of 3D Systems. Together with Rossi, Metallo and other Smithsonian staff, they’ll examine how digitization will shape the future of the Smithsonian and grapple with the challenges of effectively digitizing and making publicly available millions of artifacts and specimens.
“For a museum curator, there are scary aspects to letting collections roam digitally on the internet,” Debevec says, “but it seems that Smithsonian curators understand the potential of all this, and I think they’re going to be on the forefront of making it happen.”
Watch the livestream above for coverage of the two-day conference.
- My how far we've come - A new website allows you to see when your digital images would lool like rendered on an old Commodore 64 computer. [via PetaPixel]
- In their own words, oral histories at the Archives of American Art shed light on the artistist, Yasuo Kuniyoshi, in their exhibition, Artist Teacher Organizer: Yasuo Kunioshi in the Archives of American Art. [via Archives of American Art Blog]
- Watch out manuscripts, the next step: Handwritten Text Recognition! [via InfoDocket]
- This week the Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum announced the winners of the 16th Annual Desgin Awards. [via Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum]
- Four basic steps - Archiving the Arthur C. Clarke Collection. [via AirSpace Blog, NASM]
- Lonnie Bunch, the founding director of the National Museum of African American History and Culture, spoke with Smithsonian Magazine about the Baltimore protests, the role of museums during times of upheaval, and the National Museum of African American History and Culture’s plans for the future. For more from Lonnie Bunch about the museum, please see the video below. [via Smithsonian Magazine]
Gold mines and wind turbines are no match for Helena and Preston Arrow-weed.
Environmentalists, activists, educators—the Arrow-weeds are a force. They protect the sacred sites and desert ecosystem of their ancestral lands, the lower Colorado River region, through successfully protesting the creation of mines and turbines. They also dedicate themselves to the stimulation of tribal culture and increasing understanding of Native American history, culture, and art.
Bonded through their environmental causes, Helena and Preston have dramatically different personalities. Helena is quiet and reserved. She has the patience and grace of a seasoned teacher having worked in many educational capacities—elementary school teacher, ESL teacher, and assistant professor.
Preston is outgoing and witty, with an irreverent deadpan humor that makes a heritage bearer of his renown approachable. He is a member of the Quechan Tribe of California and only one of a few who sing the sacred songs celebrating the rites of passage from birth to death and can sing them in the correct order. Multi-talented and multifaceted, he was also a Marine, a Hollywood actor, and is now a playwright.
At the 2016 Folklife Festival, Helena and Preston shared their personal stories, their causes, and the significance of the songs that Preston performs as Helena dances.
How did you meet?
Preston: Well, there I was minding my own business, and this woman came around with a rope, and she dragged me home.
Helena: Actually, we met at a hearing for environmental issues. We were both talking against it. I was really impressed with his presentation, protecting the desert and the animals—
Preston: It was love at first sight.
Helena: —and he had just such interesting stories and I thought, “Whoa. I am going to ask that guy to come to my classroom.” So I called the tribe and I asked them for Preston Arrow-weed. After a few calls, they finally gave me his number. We became friends after that.
Preston: I stayed over with her after that.
Patience and attention truly pay off with Preston’s style of storytelling. The plots wind down twisted paths populated by personified animals and superhuman beings, ending in foreign but ancestral landscapes of deserts, mountains, and oceans. Enraptured by giant talking snakes and frogs, you forget to listen for the moral—until it hits you like a ton of bricks at the end.
Why are traditional songs and stories so important?
Preston: They teach history, teach morals. Even though I think it has more to do folklore, it has deep meanings. For instance, gold. In the creation story, there is a giant snake. This snake was created in anger. The creator was disappointed with his son, and they got in an argument. It was when the world was still wet and he was trying to mark it with a stick. The creator talked with his son, got angry and threw the stick down to the earth.
When the stick fell it became a snake, and because of the creator’s anger it became an angry snake. The snake’s head became poison, and his tail became a rattle from a piece of mud. The snake bit the first man that was created. The man was revived because it wasn’t time for his death, but then they took the snake and threw him to the north. Soon they forgot about him.
Sometime later on they said, “We have to get that snake because he is getting bigger and bigger. He is going to be dangerous.” So they went over there and tricked him. They told him they were going to build him a house, led him into it, and killed him.
But he knew that this was going to happen. He was wise. He knew that this was meant to be. He knew that this was his purpose, that he was a part of the plan of the universe. He knew that he had to play the role through.
He showed up at the house. The creator’s son was waiting at the entrance of the house with a big stone obsidian knife. The snake created four heads to scare the creator’s son. The creator’s son chopped off all four heads and killed the snake.
The creator’s son took the snake’s body and laid it across the shore so that the ocean couldn’t come up onto it—that is the mountains. Then the head that came off, he smashed it up and the spittle became silver. The snake’s urine went to the ocean—that is what makes the ocean powerful. And his blood was gold.
Today we know the power of the snake, but we also know the power of the snake’s blood. Today people misuse the power of the snake’s blood. And look what it has done to the world. For that snake’s blood, people have killed each other. Wars are going on now because of it. The whole country is fighting over it.
So these songs really have a deep meaning about the belief of my people. So if everyone knew this story, they would learn that there is no moderation when it comes to power. You ruin everything around you. The snake’s blood is very powerful. It ruins everything.
How did you learn these stories and songs?
Preston: I heard it, I joined in, and I picked it up. It was not like today: “this is the way you sing” and “this is the way you say that.” They would say, “Go ahead and join me.”
For a long time I really didn’t know what I was saying. I had to analyze the words before I understood what it really meant. Today there are many phonetic singers, but they do not know what it means. I don’t sing phonetically.
I think for that reason, I became an environmentalist because—knowing these things and ignoring it, I couldn’t do it. Now, I’ll make the statement. I am involved in environmental issues because of the songs. If every singer knew what their songs meant, they would be right here beside me.
What is it like to share your traditions at the Folklife Festival?
When I was coming down here, I was thinking, I am going to D.C. and I am going to spill my guts about my tribe, my songs, and everything. But why am I doing this? Is it for the money? The attention? For the tribe? But it is not my land. It is those peoples’ land.
I am not talking about Washington, D.C., and what it is today. I am talking about the ancient people who once lived here. They had a belief. They had a religion. They had everything. And here I am going to bring mine onto their land? It is wrong.
So I said, since no one is there from their people, I am going to bring my traditions there and do it for them. I am sharing what is mine and trying to help them. I do align myself with them. I am doing this for those people.
Before each performance, Preston made a statement, directing focus to the ancestral inhabitants of the D.C. area and paying respect to their land, their traditions, and their history. He respected the local Native history by acknowledging its existence, his activist and environmentalist nature enacted in every moment of his life.
SarahVictoria Rosemann is a media intern for the Center for Folklife and Cultural Heritage. She has a degree in ethnomusicology, with a focus in Tibetology, and grew up in Reno, Nevada.
The 2016 Sounds of California Smithsonian Folklife Festival program was co-produced with the Alliance for California Traditional Arts, Radio Bilingüe, the Smithsonian Asian Pacific American Center, and the Smithsonian Latino Center.
According to Sekou (Cheikh) Fofana, his skill as a dyer is a direct result of his love for his mother. His parents are deceased, but he keeps large portraits of them in his home in Guédiawaye, a large suburb of Dakar, Senegal.
His father was a Guinean Soninke itinerant trader, who was often away for long periods. Sekou’s mother was a Malian Soninke dyer, who used the synthetic dyes that became widely available in West Africa from the 1960s. Soninke people are an old and storied Mande ethnic group, particularly known for travel and trade, Islamic scholarship, and cloth dyeing.
From his relatives on his father’s side, Sekou knows a bit about the complex processes of gathering, processing, and dyeing with indigo. But it is from his mother that Sekou derives his skills: as a child, he was constantly by her side, learning much of what she knew. With this multilayered family legacy, dyeing is more than a business for Sekou: “o kɛra ciyɛn,” he says in Bamanankan. “It is heritage.”
Like many African textile artists working in urban settings, Sekou walks a professional tightrope. He must produce cloth that will sell in competitive, fashion-centered Dakar, which often means making things with new, rapid techniques on inexpensive materials. At the same time, keeping in business is what allows Sekou to sustain and teach traditional dyeing skills, techniques that are laborious and complex, yielding pieces that are highly valued but slow to sell. Sekou is open-minded and experimental in his approach to new techniques like silkscreen printing. The balancing act today is to transform his dyeing heritage without destroying it.
The terminology used in contemporary cloth decoration also reflects a regard for old techniques, even as new methods supplant them. The silkscreens themselves are called clichés, French for “film” or “printing plate,” as they are produced through photographic means. To describe the printed motifs, artists borrow from hand techniques, like miselini (Bamanankan, “little needle”) or takka (Wolof, “to tie”).
Although almost any image can be created on the silkscreens, often the motifs or the style of drawing them likewise refer to the hand techniques that artists and consumers continue to value. Silkscreens have been used in cloth decoration in Mali since at least the 1990s, but have attained new heights of popularity across West Africa since about 2013. In 2015 and 2016, shimmer ink became available, and the radiant cloths printed with it were marketed as “VIP,” evoking prestigious cosmopolitan style.
The women of the Wagué family, a prominent clan in the central neighborhood of Grand Dakar, have practiced dyeing nearly all their lives. Now in middle age, they have ceased to dye for income, but they continue to create elaborate stitch-resist cloths as a hobby—only for the pleasure of creating. The lexicon of marks, stitches, and designs they possess provides a well of creativity, grounded in the past.
Skilled in the design of intricate, multicolored resist patterns, the Wagués had no interest in adopting the quicker, cheaper techniques that have become prevalent in Dakar, but the declining prices of dyed and decorated cloth have effectively pushed them out of the market. They are proud to have sent the young people in their family to school, but they are concerned that their skills were not being passed on and troubled by knowledge they themselves had lost.
But “in the village, they still know,” they said, voicing the widely held imagining of “the village” as a repository of tradition skills and values. I was able to meet one of the “village” Wagués, and she did indeed “still know” and more importantly, still do, some of these old skills, particularly the dense stitch-resist for which Soninke dyers are renowned.
Unlike the silkscreens, which are used to apply designs after the cloth has been dyed, the older methods of decoration involve resist techniques, meaning that artists use knots, thread, wax, or resin to create the spaces where color will not go. Indigo and other natural colorants require careful preparation according to often secret vat recipes. By contrast, dyeing with synthetic dyes appears simple.
According to Sekou, it is the mixing of sophisticated colors, creating attractive and attention-grabbing tones with reliable results, which requires experience and skill. Many people may dabble in dyeing, having seen dye packets for sale in shops and dyers at work in their neighbors’ courtyards, but without appreciating the complexity of the work involved. Sekou is a kind and attentive teacher, but it has been hard for him to find an apprentice who will work with him long enough to learn all he has to share.
Dyeing represents an ancient tradition and an important economic activity across West Africa, with many local variations. In many places, including Mali and Senegal, dyeing cloth has historically been the domain of women, and all the stages of cloth production moved back and forth between women’s and men’s work. To generalize, men grow cotton, women card and spin it, men weave, women dye, men tailor garments. There are exceptions, and the techniques and the social contexts of work change.
Along with dramatic urbanization and increasing Islamization during the twentieth century, which affected many traditions, new technologies have also played a role in transforming textile traditions, from the introduction of manufactured cloths, to machine-spun cotton yarn, to vivid synthetic dyes that became widely available from the 1960s.
Like these earlier technologies, silkscreen printing has changed the equations of labor and value in cloth production. It doesn’t make sense to invest months of embroidery work, like the Wagués’, into a low-quality cloth that will not be durable, for example. However, silkscreens go down just as rapidly on the best, most costly manufactured cloth as on the inexpensive batiste.
The lightweight batiste cloth is bright, attractive, and desirable for the hot summer months. Even when decorated, however, it is cheap, not expected to last more than a season. It is essentially fast-fashion. In Dakar, where many potential clients lack much purchasing power, demand for lower costs drives the development of faster methods and cheaper goods.
Despite these pressures, the older, slower methods persist. Sekou and his family, the Wagués, and other dyers travel to learn from practitioners in small towns in Senegal and neighboring countries. On one occasion in Guédiawaye, I observed Sekou, his relative Fatou, and his assistant Moussa working on hand-tied resists. They spread their work on the cool tile floor of Fatou’s courtyard, taking care to show me the different motifs they created. Their delight and pride in these hand skills suffused the little space as we worked into the evening. Without prompting, Fatou’s daughter imitated her mother’s deft movements as she picked up scraps and began to try some ties.
The immense popularity of artisanal fashion cloth in West Africa at once sustains and threatens the embodied knowledge that the Fofanas and the Wagués have inherited. Here at the Center for Folklife and Cultural Heritage, a new initiative called Crafts of African Fashion will explore the role of traditional craft skills in the contemporary fashion industry and promote sustainable cultural heritage enterprises. The initiative will launch at this year’s Folklife Festival, where visitors to the Festival Marketplace will be able to meet and observe the work of visiting master artisans from Africa and enjoy a display of contemporary clothing by designers from Africa and the African diaspora.
Rebecca Fenton is a predoctoral fellow at the Center for Folklife and Cultural Heritage and National Museum of Natural History. She recently completed her Ph.D. in art history at Indiana University. Her research focuses on expressive dress and other forms of creativity in everyday life in Africa.