Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Teaming Up and Making Books

In early January about a dozen middle school girls from the Community Bridges-Dream Catchers mentoring program converged on Pyramid Atlantic—a respected print and paper arts institution in Silver Spring MD, to make handmade paper that would be used in their one-of-a kind, artists’ books.

I met the girls late last year during orientation for the month long program called YES (The Youth Empowerment and Skills program) which is a unique collaboration between Pyramid, Dream Catchers, Maryland Department of Juvenile Services and the Montgomery County Department of Recreation. The program would include papermaking, collage, storytelling and job training skills workshops.

Pyramid’s Resident Papermaker, Gretchen Schermerhorn, and artist Beth Schaible introduced the art of papermaking and provided direction as the girls sloshed through water at their feet and sticky pulp in their hands. I assisted as they formed their sheets, mixed pulp paint, and made their color choices. Dream Catchers program coordinator, Jenna Fletcher, worked with a group of girls in another room on job skills.

In the papermaking studio were vats of pulp made from blue jeans mixed in a huge Hollander beater and other vats with pulp made from cotton fibers and another containing rich purple pulp.

To form a sheet of small paper, the girls had to grip the mold and deckle and pull it through the water, with the bottom end first. It then required them to lift both to the surface in one continuous motion.

Each girl made many small sheets of paper that would be used to create collages as well as cut-out images for their books. I will demonstrate the collage technique in an upcoming workshop. The girls laughed and sometimes winched when they immersed their hands into the cold mushy solution to break up clumped fibers. Some experimented and added inclusions like yarn or leaves to their sheets.

Every girl created one deckled sheet over five feet long. The tedious process began by measuring the pulp taken from large vats and mixing it with a small amount of a slime-like substance. The solution was then stirred and carefully poured into a long wooden frame, while someone else shook the frame from side to side to avoid clumps from forming. After the water drained from the sheet, it was then flipped onto a couching table and then painted with colored pulp squeezed from plastic bottles. After drying for a day or so, the long sheet would then be folded into an accordion book. Other elements will be added to the book in future workshops.

The girls created beautiful paper that day and were anxious to see what it would finally look like after it was pressed and dried. I was thrilled that they had this amazing experience and excited about leading the next workshop where I will teach the girls a paper decorating technique called paste paper.

Posted in February, 2008

Friday, February 15, 2008

The Legacy of the Lock

I remember Lorenzo Pace when I was a high school student in Chicago. Lorenzo was teaching at the School of the Art Institute in Chicago. I would sometimes see him at the Southside Community Art Center where Black artists would converge for National Conference of Artists (NCA) meetings. NCA had chapters in most major cities and was the oldest Black arts organization in the U.S. Lorenzo was always very encouraging of my art and served as a mentor to me as a young high school and college student.

Many years later when he told me he wrote a children’s book, I was delighted. In Julani and the Lock which he also illustrated, he masterfully takes the tough subject of slavery and makes it understandable to a young child. Using bold colors, simple language and child-like imagery, he based his book on his great, great grandfather, Steve Pace’s story of being captured in Africa, locked in a box and transported to America to be a slave. Amazingly, he managed to keep the lock from the box and pass it on to his children, grandchildren and great grandchildren.

Lorenzo Pace was presented the lock after his father’s funeral. The same lock that shackled his great, great grandfather Steve Pace, was now his to pass on. I love the way that the legacy is passed on through art – both visual and literary.

An internationally accomplished artist, Lorenzo Pace was commissioned in 1993 to create a 60 foot high outdoor monument “Triumph of the Human Spirit” in New York City’s Foley Square, that paid tribute to the African slaves that were buried there. Lorenzo Pace duplicated the lock that Steve Pace passed down to his descendants and buried it in the base of the 300-ton granite sculpture.

Adjoa Burrowes

Posted in February, 2008

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Among a Million Readers

I joined over a million readers on Sunday February 3, at the Sherwood Regional Library in Alexandria, Virginia as part of the Nineteenth National African American Read-In sponsored by the Black Caucus of the National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE) and by NCTE. I read from two picture books that I illustrated—Grandma’s Purple Flowers and Destiny’s Gift, and shared some of my original illustrations to a mixed audience of parents and inquisitive school-age children. The Read-In was designed to inject literacy into the celebration of Black History Month. That day across the nation, Read Ins were hosted by churches, schools, libraries and various community groups.

A Quilt and a Quest

Kyra E. Hicks, a quilt historian and author of Martha Ann’s Quilt for Queen Victoria also read that day at Sherwood library. Hicks first children’s book is the true story of Martha Ann Ricks, an ex-slave who had a dream to travel to England to deliver a gift to the Queen of England, in appreciation of the British Navy’s role in protecting the shores of Liberia from slave catchers. Despite skepticism from family and friends, Martha Ann was determined to meet her goal. After 50 years of collecting spare coins for her 3,500 mile voyage, and drawing upon what she learned about quilting from her mother, she finally was able to deliver the “Coffee Tree” quilt and meet the Queen of England. A year later the quilt was exhibited in the Liberian exhibit area at the World’s Columbian Exposition in Chicago, Illinois.

Kyra Hicks taught herself to quilt after a visit to a museum in 1991 exhibiting African American story quilts. Since then Hicks has exhibited her quilts throughout the U.S. and abroad. A historical researcher, Hicks is the author of Black Threads: An African American Quilting Sourcebook.

Adjoa Burrowes

Posted in February, 2008