The Turkish Cultural Foundation put together three overlapping tours, each with about 25 teachers from all over the United States, including two other teachers from Santa Fe: Andria Liesse, a language arts teacher at Capshaw Middle School, and Tracy Akers, who teaches history at Santa Fe High School, and myself. I teach art in kindergarten through grade 6 at Atalaya Elementary School.
TCF’s aim was to give teachers the big-picture view of Turkey, past and present. We had an academic guide and were accompanied by two Turkish teachers. At each location we visited, we looked for inspiration we could bring back to our students and classes. As you can imagine, this was awe-inspiring!
Our phenomenal tour took us to as many natural, cultural and historic sites as could be fi t into two weeks. We saw the Hagia Sophia, the Spice Market, Islamic and Turkish Arts Museum, Topkapi Palace and the Grand Bazaar in Istanbul, then went on to Gallipoli, Troy, Ephesus, Caravan Hostels in Konya, caves in Cappadocia and Museums in Ankara. We visited several artists in their workshops, strolled down streets and met with Turkish diplomats and representatives from NGOs.
My first productive inspiration of the trip turned out to be our visit to the nomadic rug workshop and market in Cappadocia. The basic design form of the rug, the multi-layering of the imagery and limited color palettes, made the perfect lesson for my students.
Back in my classroom, students viewed slides of Turkish rugs from different regions. We noted the similarities and differences, how each had a limited palette with a dark color, a light color and three or four middle colors. Another consistency was the mirror symmetry inherent in the design and surrounding borders, the central area and the medallion in the middle. We discussed the use of symbols in our lives. A single symbol can have different meaning to different people. Drawing on the white board, students took turns turning their favorite animal or activity into an abstracted symbolic shape.
While I read from a list of topics, the students drew images and wrote notes about their favorite things: animals, vegetables or sports. From this visual collection, students created secret symbols that could represent their favorite things. Everyone created a limited palette of six colors. Then, using both theme and palette for selection, they were matched up with two other students to form a group that would design a rug together.
Students used templates to create outer and inner borders and set up their rug design. They sketched their design onto large poster boards with wax crayons and oil pastels, which provided a resist when they added another layer in watercolor. During the creation of these posters, students learned about another culture and the art form of Turkish woven rugs. They studied and created their own symbols, learned how to develop a limited palette, and experimented with the effects of different media. They had the opportunity to collaborate and work as a team.
These completed rug design posters have been displayed around town at Atalaya Elementary School, in the Santa Fe Public Schools’ central office at 610 Alta Vista Street and other locations, and now throughout the winter print issue of Tumbleweeds, with more here on the Tumbleweeds website.
Nina Mastrangelo, an artist living with her family in Santa Fe, has taught art, media, architecture and science at Pre-K through graduate levels and served on many school committees and boards. This is her eighth year teaching elementary art in the Santa Fe Public Schools.