This is the final blog of a six-part series on a project inspired by Bisa Butler. In this blog, SEEC’s former art educator Carolyn Eby reflects on the entire project which is discussed in-depth in the previous blogs – Inspiration, Batik, Collage, Sewing, and Kente Cloth.
Overall, the Bisa Butler inspired project could not have been more of a success. The process gave the children the opportunity to learn new skills like cutting fabric and sewing. It allowed them to explore textiles, learn more about the clothes they wear, and make connections between fabrics and their personalities.
The project also introduced them to the artwork of Bisa Butler who the classes fell in love with. They even decided that Bisa Butler should represent the letter “B” in their classroom alphabets. Carolyn was excited to highlight the work of a Black, contemporary, female artist. She explained that she is continuously searching for more black, indigenous, people of color, and other underrepresented artists. She says that what we are currently doing, in terms of teaching diversity, is not enough. She cited the fact that most art museums show majority white men as their artists. As an art teacher, she strives to introduce young children to a wide variety of diverse artists so that the children are able to embrace artists like Bisa Butler.
When thinking about what she might have done differently, Carolyn explained that she could have slowed down and taught even more classes on the subject. Even though they worked on the project for a long time, six classes, Carolyn said that the children “didn’t seem tired of it.” If she had taught more lessons on the subject, she would have gone more in depth about how fabric is made. She explained that slowing down and truly breaking down ideas into their core components is something that she is always trying to do as an educator and is constantly surprised by how much further and deeper she could go with a subject.
Another challenge for Carolyn was how the children interpreted the layering of fabric. Carolyn designed the project to allow the children to layer freely but as the children collaged fabric to their pieces, Carolyn noticed that they were beginning to cover up the beautiful batiks they had previously made. Even though she was excited for the children to use layering as an artistic aspect since Bisa uses layering as a technique a lot, Carolyn had not anticipated just how into layering some of the children would become. She felt conflicted because she wanted their batiks to be a visible part of the finished pieces, but she wanted the children to be free to express themselves. Upon reflection Carolyn said, “that was sort of a learning exercise for me, this is their art, these are their choices. You can encourage but you don’t want to move things or change things.”
Additionally, Carolyn had some concrete recommendations for anyone trying out this project:
- Make collaborative batiks to use in the collage. Rather than individual batiks as the base of the project
- Use thick string (not loose yarn) when sewing
Lastly, Carolyn noted that a huge goal, for this project and all her projects, is for the children to “walk out feeling successful and capable.” She explains that her goal is not even for them to love art; it is more important to her that they feel capable. She wants to help give them the support so they can feel like they can keep going even if some of the skills are new or difficult. That was one thing that was great about the Bisa Butler project. By introducing them to making art out of textiles, the children were exposed to a whole new skill set. Carolyn worked closely with each child so they could feel both independent and secure in their abilities at the same time while working with a new medium for them.
Thanks for reading our six-part teacher feature on Carolyn’s Bisa Butler Project! You can read all six parts here.
Learn more about Bisa Butler and the story of batik fabric on our Learning Lab Page!