The Conference Workshop with the three amigas…

We were as ready to lead the workshop for teachers as any oveprepared presenters might be. In fact, we were so nervous in anticipation we thought we should arrive at the conference venue two hours before our stint was to begin. Then, we found out we could only arrive just an hour prior to star time.
The evening before we went over our materials and equipment checklists, trial ran CDRs on the laptop we were to use and almost added to our burgeoning boxes items we deemed essential for workshop participants to have.
Lee conjectured, “Should we take pencils and pens for the people?”
“Are you kidding me?” I snapped back. “We are not dealing with high school students here. Surely to God no self-respecting teacher would dare turn out to a workshop sans writing equipment!”
I did think having rice-powder on hand for the participants to try out making Kolams and Rangoli was essential, so I busied myself with the trusty Braun coffee grinder and ground up a whack of rancid rice that was about to be heaved into garbage. The jar of rancid rice-powder was large enough to provide coverage of Kolams over a large area of pavement. I didn’t think people would be overwhelmed by the smell of it. Besides which, “waste not, want not” is my motto. Rice Powder, check!
Meanwhile Louise was pasting labels on all items to remain in the teaching kits, and double checking contents. Lee was reorganizing the workshop handouts and making sure all was in order. We did this in the kitchen. Rumpole came home to find the place a disaster zone and kicked his way to the bedroom to change into his grubbies. We finished our labours, drank one more cup of cold tea, loaded our stuff into two cars and parted company with plans to meet up at the Conference place with all our stuff the following morning at 7am. Lee was to pick me up at quarter of seven, practically the crack of dawn.
The morning of, I scrambled around half-asleep after a largely sleepless night, washed, dressed, got the kinks out of my hair and bolted back a couple of cups of coffee. Waited beside Rumpole’s snoozing Hyundai as I waited for Lee to arrive in her red Mustang. Bless that youngster, she had brought me a Starbucks latte. As we drove toward the Conference place Dawn broke over the horizon in a milky iridescent pearl-grey band. The day promised to be mild and dry.
When we arrived at the parking lot, Lee nipped into the building to find a dolly to haul our gear, leaving me to call Louise and let her know exactly where we were parked. Louise arrived just as I was unloading the stuff from the Mustang’s trunk. Soon, Lee returned with the dolly in tow and we loaded the containers on to it and went to find our workshop room.
Luck was on our side. We were booked into a science lab with many electric outlets, a big screen and gererous white-boards as well as two sinks. Perfect for an art workshop.
Lee proceeded to set up the electronic equipment, and much to our relief it all promised to work as required. Louise set out the handout material and placed printed visuals onto the whiteboard with stick-um. I set out art materials into stations adequate for a large group to work at without a hitch. We were so organized we had a half- hour to spare before deadline for start. We went in search of muffins to feed on. These two gals were an absolute joy to work alongside!
When teachers straggled in, with no one late ( they are so conditioned to time dictates) I was surprised to note there were no men in the group. All women, mostly young ones who looked so very young. Just three retirement-age ladies in a group of 19 souls. I suddenly felt like a creaky antique.

Lee opened up the workshop with having everyone introduce themselves. She looked glamorous in her Punjabi suit outfit of Royal blue with gold embroidery.. On her wrists she wore Indian bangles with bells attached – so whenever she needed to call people to attention she only had to shake her arms. Louise overlooked proceedings like a fond aunt. I sat by the side as grannie types are wont to.
I had prepared the lesson plans on Kolams and Rangoli and figured if someone else could present and lead the lesson, any teacher attending the workshop could also follow the information for successful presentation. The workshop participants got right down to work, experimented, made permanent examples with chalk on black paper for themselves and experimented with rice-powder Kolams on the floor. They got so involved that they worked right through the half-hour rest period. I helped with making Kolams on the floor, showing how to hold the powder in the palm and trickle it to the ground and make gestures whilst doing so. Participants made amazing patterns and expressed eagerness to show the process to students. Lee glowed with pleasure. Louise went around the room documenting people at work, so much so she went through two sets of batteries. We all had great fun, largely in silence.
We were all so occupied with making Kolams we ran out of time for the presentation of the second half of the workshop. The keeners wanted us to carry on, so we showed CDRs on Navajo sandpainting, discussed similarities and differences for those two types of imagemaking, emphasizing the ritual differences, showed the sand which to use in making sandpaintings and discussed techniques for making permanent examples with students. It helped to have two permanent sandpaintings Lee had brought back at Christmastime from Arizona. The principle of Symmetry exemplified in both types of images was a huge topic of discussion, as was the abstraction inherent in both. The teachers expressed that they could use both to teach mathematical concepts, and also to have students use symmetry in their expressions of beauty and story telling.
They also stated that since we had made teaching kits using the internet for much of our research, they could further have students continue to research and compare information found on the net.
Overall the workshop was a success. We packed up our supplies and headed back to my kitchen to decompress over a couple of pots of tea. Louise planned to take out one of the kits for high schools and use the information for teaching art during the next semester. She also decided to extend the scope of the kit by designing further lesson plans and units. She has much to work with from the kit – on Contemporary Ephemeral Art and its practitioners – with DVDs added to explore in depth the work and its underlying concepts.
Lee called me this afternoon while I had my head down for a nap. She had begun to teach the unit on Kolams and Rangoli and reported her kids were tremedously excited by the potential for making ephemeral art in public spaces. Maybe the future grafitti taggers ( taggers give such pain to the maintenance crews in our town) will make practice of leaving their mark using ephemeral materials which disappear in short time.
It feels terrific to have brough this project of ours to such a succesful conclusion. I am anticipating seeing concrete results from our project by school year’s end. The project has been a form of therapy for me, useful, encouraging, engaging. Being part of it reassured me that I still have the “stuffing” left in me with which to contribute in my small way to my community, vision problems be damned.

8 Responses to “The Conference Workshop with the three amigas…”

  1. lookingforbeauty Says:

    This has been a major accomplishment for you. You should be so proud of yourself!
    Once a teacher, always a teacher – I think this has been very satisfying for you to pass along your love of art and to help other teachers prepare for some very interesting and informative lesson planning.
    And yes, your two young assistants are simply treasures. Please pass along my kudos to them both.

  2. ybonesy Says:

    Sounds like a brilliant workshop, G. I love how you connected it to Navajo sandpainting. At first when I read about the rancid rice powder, well, I wondered if it was for making some sort of drink. 8)

  3. The Querulous Squirrel Says:

    Thank you for bringing kolam and rangoli to my attention. They are so beautiful. It’s amazing how different cultures have different approaches to art based on symmetry and permanence vs impermanence. This was a fun story.

  4. suburbanlife Says:

    LFB – it feels so good to have done all this, and getting to know lee and Louise better in the process. They want to keep collaborating on future projects in teaching art at the local level and extending ephemeral and environmental art practices. Good Folk, those two! G

    ybonesy – Roma – I have been stockpiling rice for a year and still had about three pounds which had gone off and smelled weird. Definitely would not want to drink anything made from it! The beauty of using at hand materials is their availability – white rice = white rangoli powder, brown rice = beige, used coffee grounds = black, dried chile peppers = red, turmeric = yellow of a brillliant hue. The only thing missing is blue, and powder can be made from powdered blue poster pain – and you have all the colours necessary for the color limit of traditional Navajo sand paintings of the ephemeral sort. it is not necessary to appropriate Navajo imagery, but the geometric nature of designs could be applied to any type of imagery one wants to invent or design, as can the principle of symmetry. I do love traditional Navajo design, find it beautifully sophisticated – and the symbolism so understandable. it was all so much fun to do this workshop. I’d do it again! G

    Squirrel – the kolam and rangoli, in concept and simplicity of means, are a beautiful art form. practiced by women in India. I found out about it quite by accident, by googling ‘dhulee chithram’ and then following the thread of information. Was completely hooked by the beauty and the reasons for making such designs. What was most compelling to me was the concept of individuals making ephemeral beauty on a daily basis, uncaring about the lack of permanence and finding daily joy in the practice. There is a lesson here for us Westerners I think. I tried to upload The Kolams of Pondicherry from youtube videos, but couldn’t manage to do so. Look it up, if you already havent come upon it on your own – it is a brief but lovely look at the making of kolams at dawn. G

  5. The Querulous Squirrel Says:

    Amazing video.

  6. suburbanlife Says:

    Squirrel – I am glad you liked it. When i found it i was so thrilled and watch it over and over again. G

  7. ybonesy Says:

    Thanks for the tips on how to make the sand with these different ingredients. I bet one would have to careful with the red, to use gloves or not rub the eyes afterward.

  8. suburbanlife Says:

    ybonesy – As for using ground chile peppers – the one way to avoid getting this red powder on hands, and then into eyes, is to place the powder into those chap plastic ketchup dispensers found in Loonie Stores and cut the nozzle to the finest opening. Then the powder can be dispenesed without too much touching. G

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