Culture Cloaks


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Graphic Design study of symbols across culture. Focus on the symbolic style of Aboriginal Art and their cultural example of living in harmony with Nature. Students researched 10 ways to change our lifestyles to respect the Earth and designed symbols for modern practices in Aboriginal graphic styles. They transferred their designs onto possum skin cloaks - which was the practice of Aboriginal clans of New Sotuh Wales. They etched designs of natural surroundings and important life events into possum skin cloaks that they kept for all of their lives. We imported Australian possum skins from New Zealand (an invasive species on that island) and used the pelts to replicate the possum skin cloajs project at the Melbourne Museum. The modern cloak that we sewed represents the practices with which we need to wrap around our lives to respsct and preserve our planet.

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Culture Cloaks

  1. 1. CULTURE CLOAKS Patterns of Culture Cultural Identity and Environmental Practices Illustrated in Design Symbols
  2. 2. Environmental Culture Cloaks Indigenous peoples share a rich appreciation and respect for the environment in their cultural traditions and practices. Students at Palo Alto High School studied the use of graphic design symbols of indigenous peoples in Victoria & New South Wales, Australia, to record land features and environmental values. Aboriginal artworks from the Anangu and Kakadu peoples of Australia provided examples for creating design patterns that reflect cultural values and identity. Using the tradition of recording identity through symbolic designs on clothing and animal skin cloaks as a model, students designed environmental symbols to represent important cultural values for a sustainable future. They transferred their designs onto two contemporary cloaks made of Australian possum and rabbit skins as a symbol of the practices that indigenous peoples teach: to live in balance and respect of environmental resources. Like a cloak, we must wrap these practices around us for a sustainable future for the world.
  3. 3. Field Study: Models of Asian Pacific Arts We went to Stanford University campus for our field study of Asian Pacific Arts. Students were fascinated by the organic and natural design patterns from the Papua New Guinea Sculpture Garden. The outdoor gallery includes wood carvings, totems, painted logs, and carved stone.
  4. 4. Taking Note of Design Patterns Alexa and Peter sketch their favorite design patterns from the sculpture collection. Each student took three pages of sketches and notes to engage in a field study of original artworks, and to compile a reference of environmental design patterns for their own project assignments to include environmental practices.
  5. 5. Functional Designs as Part of Lifestyles Cassie and Sophie use sticks for percussion on a carved drum. I wanted students to see design patterns as an interesting and exciting part of the daily life of people around the world.
  6. 6. Painted Poles Tulsi sketches patterns from painted poles that were similar to Australian artworks at the entrance to the National Gallery in Canberra.
  7. 7. Making Aboriginal Art Connections After visiting the sculpture garden, students looked through Aboriginal examples of painted logs with design patterns that represent cultural ideas. They added dot and line pattern designs to their sketchbook notes as references for making their own design patterns.
  8. 8. Comparing Continents Art Reflects Landscapes Using land maps of Australia and the US, students studied the many varieties of land forms that shape culture. They noted that the colors and features of desert, rainforest or mountain can affect the ways that artists represent and paint the landscape. The variety of habitats and ecosystems have different types of animals and plants that artists use in their artworks.
  9. 9. Artists and Landscapes After studying maps of the Australian continent to find the red center, students got to open a package of Aboriginal artworks from Maruku Arts Center at Uluru to see how land features influence the work of artists. Kevin studies the flower pattern and designs burned into the wood of a traditional carrying bowl, while other students examine the wooden forms and design patterns of lizard and snake sculptures from the Anangu of Uluru and Kata-Tjuta.
  10. 10. Design Models from the Desert Hadas notes the location of continental mountains and deserts as well as design patterns from Anangu postcard paintings. Kaitlin and Chholay copy design patterns from Anangu wood carvings into their sketchbooks. They’ll use their design notes as a model for creating original design patterns that represent the land features and environmental identity of Palo Alto, California, and US culture. I assembled posters with illustrated maps of Australia, a brochure from the Maruku Arts Centre, and postcards of Aboriginal artworks.
  11. 11. Classroom Museum I brought all the Art resources that I purchased in travels around Australia to school for a classroom museum, and arranged paintings and artifacts with maps of Australia on each table. I made sure that each table had a variety of interesting artworks and artifacts with different plant, animal, and landscape images. When students came to class that day, I told them to sit at a table of their choice. I explained the table groupings as mini art galleries of Aboriginal Art and culture. I told them to carefully inspect and touch each of the artworks to see if they could guess the landscape it came from: desert, mountain, or rainforest.
  12. 12. Table Gallery Groupings Possum skins and stuffed animal possum, acrylic painting of crocodile from Cairns, and fabric print of animals. Each table had a map of Australia. Acrylic painting from Uluru with artist information and explanation of symbols and meaning. Carved and painted lizard from Kakadu, fabric print of animals, watercolor of mimi spirits, and acrylic painting of turtle from Cairns. Kangaroo skin, acrylic paintings of kangaroo and turtle from Cairns, acrylic painting of an ancestral spirit snake from Kakadu.
  13. 13. Table Gallery Rotations During the 55-minute period, I had students examine and talk about the artworks at each table for about five minutes. I told them to see if they could guess where each artwork was from by the colors or types of animals that would be in each landscape. After five minutes I had each table group rotate to the next table gallery for another five minute exploration of the new artworks and artifacts. That way each student had a concentrated bit of time to see, feel, examine and talk about all of the artworks.
  14. 14. As I talked about the artworks, I had students make notes of interesting symbols, patterns, and designs that they enjoyed. I wanted them to practice capturing simple details of animal figures, decorative patterns, and symbols as models to design their own symbols to communicate environmental practices, using the Aboriginal style of line & dot patterns. For the last 15-minutes, I talked about each piece, pointing out symbols and meanings, and explaining where each artwork came from. They had to find each city or landmark on their map together. Models For Meaning
  15. 15. Possum Dreaming A key table gallery was a collection of possum skins and a stuffed possum. I explained that for our graphic design project they would design environmental symbols for Aboriginal style possum & Ohlone style rabbit skin cloaks to honor wise environmental practices of native peoples.
  16. 16. Guest Artist: Australian Art Journal Art teacher Moose Wesler shows the class her journal sketches from two summers of travel around Australia. She talks about the colors of the red center at Uluru. Having a guest artist share the use of art journal sketches, as part of professional artistic practice, is an important way of affirming their use of sketchbooks to work out their own design ideas.
  17. 17. Ownership of Symbols I made a handout with copies of symbols from desert paintings. We discussed how symbols represent objects or ideas and are recognizable to the group of people familiar with those objects or ideas. I used common commercial symbols for examples that students could relate to in their daily lives. Contemporary symbols, like famous trademarks, are owned by the corporations that design them. We discussed that Aboriginal artists own the symbols for their artworks in the same way. It’s important to distinguish ownership of artistic design to respect indigenous cultures and provide a clear structure for using original designs for study, rather than to copy into their artworks. Students recorded interesting design symbols from indigenous art to use as models for creating their own original designs that reflect environmental practices.
  18. 18. Cloaks As Maps Fabri Blacklock from The Powerhouse Museum in Sydney sent me a packet of resources on traditional possum skin cloaks. I copied one of the cloak diagrams that showed the design patterns with a numbered key translating the meaning of the symbols. I told them they would design symbols for an environmental cloak using Aboriginal style dot and line patterns.
  19. 19. Researching Environmental Practices Students researched sustainable environmental practices that we could do every day in the Green Issue of Vanity Fair. Using the style of Aboriginal art, they designed symbols to represent responsible practices, like using fluorescent light bulbs, carpooling, hanging clothes to dry, and using recyclable materials.
  20. 20. Designing Environmental Symbols Students had to list 10 sustainable environmental habits that they researched in magazine and textbook information. They used the Green issues from Newsweek and Vanity Fair magazines. Gabe Copen from Assemblywoman Rebecca Cohen’s office sent me several sets of energy guides for facts on environmental resources. Students listed their favorite tips and drew symbols in Aboriginal style to represent their favorite sustainable lifestyle ideas and practices.
  21. 21. I made worksheets for students to design environmental symbols for the cloaks. They used information from the magazine article and the energy guide to list green practices, and studied Aboriginal artifacts like the didgeridoos from Kakadu clans to get ideas for organic symbols. Square worksheets were for the Ohlone style rabbit skin cloak, and the triangular ones were for the Aboriginal possum cloak sections. The diagram of a NSW Aboriginal cloak pattern with a key identifying meanings of the symbols proved to be invaluable tools for understanding how symbols are designed into patterns to tell a story, record land features, and communicate cultural values and ideas. It was their model for designing contemporary environmental symbols in Aboriginal style. Models for Making Environmental Symbols
  22. 22. Selecting Symbols Nicole, Sophie, Cassie, and Gaby volunteered to select and transfer environmental design patterns onto the possum skin cloak. They selected the best designs for a variety of daily practices that illustrated saving energy, reducing carbon emissions, recycling, and conserving resources for each cloak.
  23. 23. Design Transfer The girls spent several class periods transferring the environmental designs onto the possum skins in pencil. They used brown Prismacolor markers to finish the designs to create the effect of the darker lines from shells used to etch symbols on traditional Aboriginal possum skin quilts.
  24. 24. Mapping Our School Identity Nicole, Sophie, Kaitlin, and Cassie took a tour around campus to map out the important trees and land features of our school to make a design for the center of the rabbit skin quilt that represented our school’s environmental identity. They were very excited to bring back so many different leaves and information. They designed an Aboriginal style map of our school showing the trees around the campus and decided to place it in the center of the rabbit skin cloak. Squares representing the buildings on our school campus, are surrounded by symbols for trees. Our school name, Palo Alto, translates to “tall trees.” The oval is the football field & track.
  25. 25. Fitting it All Together We laid out the possum skins in rows and decided to include a map of the Bay Area from the watershed curriculum guide. Several students noted the river patterns on the traditional NSW possum cloaks, so we wanted to include the San Francisco Bay as part of our environmental identity. We designed it so that all three rows included part of the bay, with the pattern weaving across the cloak. Student design patterns were taped to the skins that were selected for each transfer.
  26. 26. Mapping Environmental Influences Sophie looks at the examples of traditional possum skin cloaks [above] while Cassie uses the map of Australia to draw the shape of the continent around the contours of California on the rabbit skin cloak to show the influences of Fullbright-Australia in designing our environmental cloak. Nicole works on making the key to the design symbols for the rabbit skin cloak. We designed two cloaks: one using possum skins in Aboriginal style, and the second using rabbit skins to honor Native American tribes of our region. NSW Aboriginal possum skin cloaks [left] compared with Ohlone rabbit skin cloak [right].
  27. 27. Assembling the Possum Skin Cloak The rabbit skins came in two plates – eight pelts sewn together, but the possum skins were individual pelts. At home in my studio I sewed the two rabbit plates together for one cloak, then I cut and trimmed each possum skin to match at the seams for sewing. We used fifteen possum pelts for the entire cloak. I set the skins into rows of five, sewing each row, then joining the three rows. A leather needle for my sewing machine and heavy duty thread worked perfectly to join the fifteen possum skins into a single cloak. I sewed all the tails onto the top and bottom edges, like traditional Aboriginal artists did on their cloaks.
  28. 28. Key Information Nicole uses a traditional Aboriginal possum skin cloak design diagram and key from the Powerhouse Museum as a model to make a diagram and key for our environmental cloak. The key helps viewers to understand the symbols for a Green lifestyle.
  29. 29. Environmental Culture Cloaks The group of girls who coordinated the cloak designs hold up the completed possum and rabbit skin cloaks. They also wrote thank-you letters to Fabri Blacklock of the Powerhouse Museum who sent us the wonderful resources on Aboriginal design symbols from NSW possum skin cloaks.
  30. 30. The finished possum skin cloak with edges decorated with possum tails in the style of traditional NSW cloaks. In the style of Aboriginal cloaks, we included our environmental and cultural identity in the image of the San Francisco Bay and Delta. The image of the bay runs from the top right and down to the center of the bottom section of the finished cloak. Possum skin cloak design symbols are read from top left to right across each row, and then down: Reduce water use with showers Plant a tree for preservation Preserve water & land through parks Pollution in cities affects wildlife Conserve water when not in use Increase solar power plants Carpool to reduce carbon emissions Recycle to preserve resources Recycle paper to preserve trees Connections in Australia Clean air should be our standard Buy hybrid cars to reduce oil use Environmental Identity
  31. 31. The Tales of Two [Environmental] Cloaks The possum skin cloak honors the balanced environmental lifestyle of Aboriginal peoples, while the rabbit skin cloak honors the balance of Native California Ohlone clans. The symbols read from top left across each row and down: Plant tress and use recycled paper Walking paths reduce car use Carpooling reduces traffic and smog California framed by Australia Recycling saves money & resources Solar panels reduce energy costs A tree map of our school campus Conserve water resources Hang clothes to dry-reduce energy use Water resources map of America Fluorescent bulbs reduce energy use Recycle batteries for the environment Don’t allow any air pollution In two corners of the cloak are the countries of Australia and America, working together to educate citizens about wise environmental practices. The state of California frames our identity of sustainable practices.
  32. 32. Understanding Symbolic Language Alexa studies examples of Aboriginal symbols that represent objects like people at a campfire, or land features such as water sources. To be sensitive to students who found the animal skins offensive as an art medium, I gave them the choice to design an environmental map using symbols to illustrate good and bad environmental habits. Because this was a graphic design unit, students could use their symbols to convey environmental ideas and practices on either paper as a map, or on the possum and rabbit skins as a cloak.
  33. 33. Mapping Environmental Practices Stephen and Kevin use the book Desert Dreaming for examples of symbols for objects and ideas. They’re designing an environmental map that illustrates good and bad environmental practices using Aboriginal style designs.
  34. 34. Lorena, Hannah, and Mary work together to transfer designs for their environmental practices map onto paper using acrylic paints. Inspired by Aboriginal painting styles, they include many land features and symbols. The Colors of Environmental Practices
  35. 35. Environmental Map Group The map group shares design ideas and painting techniques for their environmental maps as they near completion of their project.
  36. 36. Mapping Out Environmental Practices Eddie and Chholay hold up their planning diagram and environmental map. Map Symbol Illustrations The left side illustrates unsustainable environmental practices. The Volcano of Destruction spews pollution and waste. The City of Power rests on a dirty environment with many carbon emissions from cars crossing the Road of Destruction. The Sun of Hallucination above the city represents the obsession of Consumerism. The Bridge of Sadness and Joy crosses over the river which is half polluted by the city on the left and half clean from the responsible lifestyles on the right side. The right side illustrates sustainable environmental practices as the road gets smaller for electric cars and mass transportation. The City of Balance allows for parks and green spaces. The clouds and white mountains in the background represent clean air and land. The border around the map is decorated in Aboriginal dot pattern style.
  37. 37. Wood Inspirations from Maruka Arts Inspired by the artifacts from Uluru, several students asked if they could burn their environmental design symbols and patterns into wood. I bought wood boxes and wood burning tools to support their idea. Tulsi and Caterina look through their sketchbook symbols for environmental symbols to transfer onto their boxes.
  38. 38. Environmental Symbols in Wood Megan, Caterina, and Kaitlin work on burnishing their environmental symbols onto wooden boxes using the Aboriginal style of lines, dots and shapes to represent objects and ideas. Kaitlin includes her name and the design of a snake as creator. Hadas transfers the environmental designs in her sketchbook onto her box for burnishing.
  39. 39. Burning Ideas - Environmental Practices The wood burning artists sit around the box of artifacts from the Maruku Art Center in Uluru that inspired their work. Hadas, Tulsi, Kaitlin, and Megan share their environmental designs to invite us to step outside the “consumerism box” to reuse, recycle and reduce energy use.
  40. 40. Cassia and Nicole wrap themselves in the traditional style of possum and rabbit skin cloaks. Students committed to use the sustainable practices that they learned about at school in their homes and communities for a healthier planet. Like a cloak, we must wrap these practices around us for a sustainable future for the world. Wrapping Ourselves in Wise Environmental Practices
  41. 41. References <ul><li>Many thanks to the following sources for their information, assistance and dedication to cultural studies and the wealth of information on Aboriginal Art and particularly possum skin cloaks: </li></ul><ul><li>Fabri Blacklock – Powerhouse Museum, Sydney [email_address] </li></ul><ul><li>Essays About Quilts http:// </li></ul><ul><li>Wrapped in a Possum Skin Cloak </li></ul><ul><li>Amanda Reynolds </li></ul><ul><li>Kirrae/Gunditjmara Clan women- Debra and Vicki Couzens </li></ul><ul><li>Yorta Yorta Clan women – Lee Darroch and Treahna Hamm </li></ul><ul><li>National Museum of Australia Series 2005 ISBN 1-876944-36-6 </li></ul><ul><li>The Tooloyn Koortakay exhibition @ The National Museum of Australia </li></ul><ul><li> </li></ul><ul><li>Bunjilaka Gallery @ The Melbourne Museum </li></ul><ul><li> </li></ul>
  42. 42. Stanford University Papua New Guinea Sculpture Garden http:// / This webpage includes information about the artists as well as a history and the process of creating the collection on the Stanford campus in 1994 Kakadu National Park / National park homepage with downloadable Park Guide that includes excellent illustrations and photographs. Art center links with Dreamtime, heritage and landscape sections. PBS webpage on Kakadu http:// / Includes teacher resources, the six seasons, animals of Kakadu, and controversial land use challenges. Uluru-Kata-Tjuta National Park National park homepage with Cultural Center links that include heritage and geological details. Maruku Art Center Showcases traditional wood and sculptural pieces Walkatjara Art Centre Collection of traditional Aboriginal paintings and printwork Art Centers and On-Line Galleries
  43. 43. Desert Dreamings Deirdre Stokes, Rigby-Harcourt Books, 1992 ISBN 0-7312-1732-2 Gabe Copen from California Assembly District 24 Representative Rebecca Cohen’s office sent me several packets of environmental resources when I emailed her office for information. Contact your state and federal representative’s offices for many free classroom resources. Thanks to District 24 @ 30 Simple Energy Things You Can Do To Save The Earth The Earth Works Group, Earth Works Press, 2006 Distributed by Pacific Gas & Electric includes energy facts and history with online resources for students and teachers about wise energy practices and lessons. Special thanks to Fulbright-Australia for making this exploration possible Aboriginal Art & Energy Resources