Books to Treasure

By Citrino, Nancy | School Arts, March 1996 | Go to article overview
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Books to Treasure


Citrino, Nancy, School Arts


The purpose of this project was to combine the hands-on study of graphic arts processes with a focus on traditional African designs, motifs and symbols. The resulting products were handmade books filled with printed imagery.

The project involved the services and expertise of a professional print-maker/book arts specialist who instructed, demonstrated and assisted the students in the creation of hand-bound pages of student prints. The residency was funded by a grant from PATHS/PRISM, The Philadelphia Partnership for Education.

Project Goals

A major goal of this project was the development of investigative and research skills. Students researched the significance of ancestral African designs by reading grade-appropriate literature, informational publications and resource books, and by looking at reproductions and prints. The students explored the cultural diversity of African heritage by studying the aesthetics and principles of design in a wide range of imagery from African countries. To facilitate the research assignment, I collected books, magazines, pictures and reproductions of African village life, and a variety of patterns and designs used in African art, artifacts, masks, utensils, weapons, tools, clothing and houses. I also displayed a large map of Africa and pictures of African animals and landscapes.

The project also provided an avenue for students to experience an integrated and alternative approach to learning concepts in other academic disciplines: social studies, geography, math, science, and reading and language skills. To follow are some of the hands-on lessons that were used in the project.

Map Design

To make connections with geography, I distributed to each of the students two maps of Africa. One map identified the different countries and states; the other map was a contour drawing of the continent. The students used crayons and markers to fill in each of the different countries of Africa with a different pattern or design. This activity enable the students to think in terms of distinctive patterns and about the use of pattern in their books.

Design Grid

To make connections with math, we discussed the use of math in art in the form of geometric shapes used by some African cultures. The students used paper, pencils, rulers, markers and crayons to make a grid of motifs and patterns. Two of the squares had to be a matching set; no set could be contiguous. Color was added with crayons and markers.

Animal Symbolism

To make connections with the humanities, we discussed the importance of animal symbolism in African folklore, ritual and ceremony. Using black and green construction paper, scissors and paste, the students cut out silhouettes of a variety of animals found in Africa. This activity familiarized students with light. and dark as well as positive and negative space.

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