The students of Downeast School and Vine Street School recently learned about kente cloth, a traditional African textile, during their Art class with Ms. Pratt in honor of Black History Month. Kente cloth comes from a textile practice that originated in Ghana centuries ago. The fabric has come to symbolize cultural affiliations and roots to Western Africa, but legend has it that a spider spinning a complex web inspired the earliest kente techniques and designs.
Each kente cloth is unique and the meaning of each kente translates through an artistic manner as a way of communication and meaning. The colors, shapes, and line designs found within these weavings are all important parts of the composition. Although there are many meanings in the vast colors, Ms. Pratt narrowed down the options to the most used colors of kente so that the students could gain an understanding of their importance, yet not be overwhelmed with remembering too many relationships along with pattern, shapes, and lines.
“This group of second graders are wonderful to work with; their understanding of how important it is to learn about artistic meaning showed through today. As I started the lesson, they made sure to be ready to listen. Our target was to understand where kente came from, how it became an art form and why it was and still is important to many cultures in our world. I related the kente style to the styles the kids have of today in labels and their identification. I showed the students a key of the 5 kente colors and their meanings in a simplified manner. I spoke about each one in a way that they could relate it to the culture, to themselves and to each other,” said Ms. Pratt of Mrs. McSorley’s second grade class.
Students used the five colors yellow, blue, green, red, and black. The meanings of the colors were explained as follows: yellow/gold stands for status and our happiness. Blue stands for having a pure spirit and being harmonious. Green stands for renewal, for the concern of earth and for humanity. Red stands for love and the passion that we have for family, friends, and ourselves. Black stands for family and staying connected to our cultures and families of the past.
The students have been studying color families, line designs and shapes in previous classes. “We are always building on our learned knowledge as we move ahead. Once I had established what the colors meant, I reviewed the five major types of lines we have studied and how the organic and geometric shapes play a role in this composition. This gave the students the concrete confidence that they knew all the pieces of artistic elements to be successful,” said Ms. Pratt.
The students started with their weavers in the colors available to them and made decisions on what kinds of lines and shapes they wanted to incorporate into their own kente weave. From this point Ms. Pratt became their facilitator, helping them to work though the elements of art they were using to complete a successful design. Once several students had completed their weavers with the compositions of their color, line and shape, she visited each child and went over the understanding of a basic over and under weave. Students had prior knowledge of this skill so the weaving process was smooth. As the students completed their own kente weave they were pleased and felt accomplished that they had met the learning target and that their kente weaving would be appreciated by their school and their community. The finished pieces of art are proudly displayed in each of the schools.