Art with CAYA -- Youth Ambassadors


The week flew by with work at Bamberger Ranch and then at Southwest School of Art with the CAYA group, Texas host kids and families and the year-long residency group of SEED teachers. On this post, we just wanted to share some of the graphic and visual forms we worked on -- you can see more photos of the various aspects of the program, and the kids at work, on the Posterous SEED blog, if you're interested.

This is what I love about these graphic forms, and why I think they work as collaborative art projects:

First,  limit the palette in use  to some degree -- kraft paper brown, black, white and red  construction paper were the choices here (We loosen up on these color restrictions as the day goes on, figuring that the repetition will hold the general design together).

In the projects, we emphasize cutting over drawing or sketching. First, its less intimidating for kids who don't think they are good artists. Secondly, it keeps things simple and strong and bold. Black cutout letters and shapes are the bones for any little fussy stuff on top!

The t-shirts start with cutout "logos' for air, earth and water. Each kid makes a logo. I gang them together reduce each to a grid that will fit on a thermofax and the kids get to print their own shirts. Then, with colored fabric markers, each one can individualize and personalize his or her design. Again, the black ink on white shirt holds the whole design together.

The "dream towers" included collage work (each person cutout  a large word that described a personal dream, then collaged it with magazine pictures), a few notan designs, etc. Again, the color palette holds it together. I used the model of the Eames "house of cards" as patterns for the large foam board cards. These notch together with slits and make relatively stable and sturdy set/exhibit pieces that can be easily stored, recycled with new images with a new group, and infinitely rearranged. Since our final exhibit and presentation was in a gallery where we could not attach anything to the walls, these towers provided display space for work -- and they could be quickly assembled and disassembled and moved easily in the van or even a passenger car backseat!

The black foam  board cards were just taped into triangles (for stability) and stacked on top of each other. Kid wrote their recipes and remedies and cures for issues facing their world on these with chalk -- again, the boards can be wiped clean and reused. The blackboard form was fun, gave shape to the thinking and message, and was un-intimidating since if one made a mistake you could erase and do it again. And I love the black and white with the other forms.

The mask forms are simple paper bag masks using limited colors and mostly cut out shapes and forms. The kids (each in their group of either water, earth or air) chose a creature or element to personify as a mask and to "speak" for -- their assignment was to be a voice for those without words -- the animals, plants and elements of nature that depend upon survival with our solutions for the difficult problems facing the environment and our stewardship of the world, our partnership with the rest of the world. We used recycled packing materials from our lunches and other meals in these, as well.

After years  (and years) of doing collaborative (and quickly produced) art forms with kids and adults with all kinds of content, I do have my bag of tricks and approaches that help with visual strength and form, but still give everyone the sense of personal contribution and expression. I think that providing a few "rules" in terms of setting a strong format, limiting materials, and structuring the work experience all add up in the end.

Bookmaking with the Maestros/Maestras

We're doing another round of book-making here at Palo Alto with the international program scholarship teachers in Group 4. Everyone is writing and illustrating with photo collages their own "me books," as models and to take back to their schools as examples when they return to the classroom. The creativity is exciting -- and everyone is enthralled withusing copiers and photo printers -- technology not necessarily at hand back at home. But, as the digital world gets broader, as tools become more accessible, these teachers will return with the knowledge and experiences to dream with their students. And, the basic book-making and writing and illustration exercises can be done with low-tech supplies and tools, too.



Artisaneas in El Salvador


Rich burnished clay jars, some with dream-like and graphic crabs and lizards, or bolsd stripes, spots and repetitions of thick brushed lines. Painted wooden boxes, with surreal nighttime images, painted with tiny brushes and eye-candy detail; popular crafts – little eggs with daily (or night) life scenes under the dome. Leather bracelets, woven bags, hammocks, bedspreads and table cloths in the simple graphic stripes and checks and diamond patterns that show up everywhere in El Salvador, from the tile floors to the brightly colored walls of houses and businesses.

There is, says José Bonilla, our SEED/CASS country coordinator, a craft revival and growing artisan entrepreneurship in El Salvador. Julia noted that compared to what she has seen on previous visits, there are more varied and more polished examples of handicraft and art works available for visitors.

We have seen wonderful examples of beautiful art and craft, both modern and traditional (and our experiences with the teachers of El Salvador confirm that many people here have an innate visual literacy and talents for making wonderful art). Here’s a sample of the SHAPE collections from the workshop:

Both traditional work, like the black pottery from the Linca people in the northeastern state, to modern contemporary uses of recycled materials in jewelry, craft work and even wire puzzles. And there is a plethora of “tourism” goods – wooden plaques, books and other souvenirs, Cottage artisans, school students and others also make a wide variety of tiny woven and leather bracelets and seed necklaces. 

At the heart of all of the effort is a burgeoning entrepreneurial spirit – and a preparation for what the country hopes to be an increase in tourism, and with it a market for arts and crafts. Such a spirit is seen in the many small shops and stalls wherever local visitors gather, the flower and fruit sellers on the volcano road,  -- there was an the enterprising wire-puzzle artist at the mirador at Planes de Banderos a few miles outside of San Salvador who had set up shop with a roll of wire, cutters and imaginative maze like patterns he designed himself. With the advances El Salvador is making in its education infrastructure we can even imagine a future of “education tourism,” where El Salvador is a model of educational development based on natural, cultural and human resources.

One of the more sophisticated craft industries is the use of native indigo to dye fabric and clothing. The beautiful blue and white garments are sophisticated and graphic in their tied resist patterns. I was given a gift of a beautiful shirt by the teacher group from Morazán who participated in the San Miguel workshop. I hope to return to the Morazán to visit the dyers in the future, but, as a working trip, we didn’t have the time for that excursion.


Another contemporary and iconic craft tradition was started by artist Fernando Llort who began teaching young people in La Palma to paint colorful wooden boxes, tiles, crosses and other items inspired by his designs. Many others have taken up the style, but the best examples (and a gallery of Llort originals) are at his gallery in San Salvador.

In addition to stops at several artisan shops in San Salvador, we also visited the local coffee roaster in Perquín and bought some paper bead jewelry and a little wound paper jar, as well some more of the black clay burnished pottery from one of the little artesanea stalls that has sprung up around the Museum of the Revolution. Last night I stopped in at a artesan co-op where handmade soaps and organic coffee beans shared space with stacks of indigo dyed shirts, abstract paintings and woven housewares. Enough words, check the posterous escuelaCASS site for more photos, too. It's easier to upload on that site, so there are a lot more examples there!





Trip to Perquín, Morazán, El Salvador

(This blog is also posted on the Posterous site at with many more photos there.)

The clean air, the pines, steep tile-roofed houses with more wood in their construction than in other Salvadorean towns, the steep narrow streets lined with small shops, the smell of coffee roasting in a tin barrel roaster --these signal the mountain town of Perquín  in the far reaches of the Departamento (like a state) of Morazán in northeast El Salvador. But Morazán and Perquín soon became more for me than names on the map after my visit to the little Museum of the Revolution.


Julia shared with us her first experience here, “When I first came to the Morazán, I had come with the pictures that were described by the teachers telling about their war time experiences. Many had left with their mothers and grandparents as refugees to Honduras. They showed pictures where the tropical mountain landscapes had literally been bombed to rocks.” When she arrived in 2001, the lush greenery and land was  already in the process of recovery and the tasks of  rebuilding had begun. During her first trip she was hosted by CASS teachers from 2000, Rolando Perez, Juan Bautista Chicas and Ana Delia Romero.  They  traveled by bus on a Friday afternoon from San Salvador to the Morazon Department Capital, San Francisco Gotero ( a trip that took 4 or 5 hours) and caught the last camioneta, for the  20 miles to the rural  communities of Segundo Montes.

Julia remembered she had a reservation to stay in a B & B in Perquin, 20 miles to the north, but the students told her it was not possible, there was not transport there on the weekends. They had arranged everything: she would stay several nights with each of them. They had organized transport to see the schools and the region with a local man who owned his own truck. She remembered her first visit in Morazan, via  the specially arranged camioneta, “Traveling throughout all the rural communities in Segundo Montes to witness the process of rebuilding after the devastations of war: schools, homes, churches, community centers, with the help of NGOS and churches from all over the world."

Part of the itinerary of that incredible education trip was a visit to Perquín, to visit the Museum of the Revolution and to further north to witness the mountain routes the teachers’ families (the women, young children and old people) had traveled to escape the death squads burning and bombing the communities right behind them. There were photos of Rolando as a 4 year old in front of a church in the refugee communities in Honduras. Another photo captured a 14 year old Miguel (our driver that day) two weeks before a grenade exploded in his hands (Miguel received reconstructions and prosthesis limbs in hospitals in Cuba ). Julia remembers an incredible emotional  day of learning with these young teachers traveling with a handicapped veteran from the revolution on poor mountain roads with intermittent rain."This was Morazan and the experience and access to Perquin  in 2001."

Now, almost 10 years later, Perquin is still a long trip up the mountains–but now there is daily bus service and an internet café in the center of town. The roads are rebuilt and there are signs of construction and rebuilding everywhere – small construction businesses and many construction sites for homes and public service: road work, piles of cement block, workers carting materials up and down the roads.

The schools have grown and prospered. There are 10 CASS teachers from the rural communities of Morazán, most studied at Alamo Colleges (nine of them attended the workshop at the Education Resource Center that we facilitated on Saturday – more later on that). All of these teachers have a remarkable shared community history of war, survival, and rebuilding. They are brave, resilient and, now, amazingly joyous people who are still working under difficult conditions by U.S. school standards – at least as far as the “material world.”

THEN (Elmer's first school in Morazán)

The same school today (and Elmer is an administrator of a program that trains teachers who do not have university degrees with workshops and web-based college courses so that they can become Licensiados.)

The museum is small and modest: a few rooms lined with photos and small glass cases of artifacts from the conflict – pictures of pre-war poverty of the region (no schools then, no democratic representation, intense prejudice against the indigenous people and widespread hunger and poverty) medial supplies, the backpack of a revolutionary hero, posters of support for the fighters, rifles and machine guns, parts of downed aircraft. All these signs of violence and courage set against a background of children’s paintings depicting the peace. The museum is larger, and Julia noted a new pride and cultural ownership by the indigenous Linca tour guide as he described the people who have lived in this region since people arrived.

Another building shows a recreation of the radio station that was the voice of the people. Photos show women, children and elders operating the radio – equipment patched together from old transistor radios and other well-traveled electronics were used as receivers by the guerillas in the mountains.  In the back of the museum, a bomb still remains in a crater, with other earthen holes that show the impact. Our guide explained that on one day during the conflict 20 government planes each dropped 4 bombs on Perquín – the intent was obvious, to drive these people into the earth. (An effort, by the way, funded by the U.S. During both the Reagan and Carter administrations – at the height of the war --  the U.S. was contributing about 1.5 million dollars a day to the El Salvador government.)

Despite the part of the U.S. in the tragic history and loss of the region I was welcomed and have been warmly affirmed as a friend by the teachers we worked with in San Antonio. And as a tourist there this week, I sensed no resentment or anti-American sentiments. The teachers who came to us during the earliest years of our work with CASS all shared the history of the region, and grew up in the Honduras refugee camps camps. Many of the personal stories that they used for hand-made books included images of helicopters overhead, families fleeing across the river border, children waking in the middle of the night to escape the violence. And their photos were of a town literally leveled to the ground.

Now, after the Peace Accord was signed in 1992, Morazán is a welcoming place, busy with life and hoping for more tourism, (about 6,000 people a year visit the museum in Perquín) with a growing number of artisan crafts including indigo dyeing, paper and wood jewelry making, and sale of the distinctive coffee-colored clay pots from clay found only in this mountainous region, (More on the crafts later!) We had a wonderful meal at a little comedor, walked around the corner to buy coffee just out of the roaster – organic coffee – a new initiative in the area to rejuvenate the Salvadoran coffee industry, one devastated by global economy and the less-expensive coffee of Southeastern Asia.


Much money flows into El Salvador from the U.S. – formally in US aid including programs like this scholarship program-- and informally, through the money sent back to families at home from the emigrant Salvadoreanos in the U.S. But that’s another story!

Coming tomorrow, more about the crafts and art of El Salvador.

The Sun Shines on the Volcano

FInally, the rain seems to be letting up and we had a few hours of sun this afternoon driving into the city of San Miguel, a workhorse of a place with about a million population. We're here en route to another set of school visits in the northern area of Morazon, the part of El Salvador that had the worst impact of the war and is still less populated and developed than other parts of El Salvador.

On the way we visited a wonderful school and had a formal presentation by the students and faculty and an amazing lunch of fish from the lake at the bottom of the mountaintop where the school is (an hour down and 2 hours back up, we were told). Also on the menu -- a delicious chicken (yes, this was the real thing, a chicken that had never seen an industrial farm) soup, beef, rice, papusas, enchiladas (which are, in this part of the world are a thick corn tortilla topped with mild red chili sauce and fresh cheese) and more of the wonderful thick comal-toasted corn tortillas of El Salvador. And this was after a little snack that had been served to us upon arrival with fried yucca (the ultimate crunchiness treat of the world), papusas, sweet rich black coffee laced with cinnamon, sweet baked candied pumpkin and about 6 other dishes -- just a little snack. 

And now we're about ready to head for "the best fish soup in the world," according to our traveling coordination and SEED program director Jose.

For the wearable art lovers among you readers, here are some creations by third graders -- all with recycled materials. I'll get better pictures of these later for the WHAT CAN SCHOOL BE blog on posterous. 

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Directly above, a collaged skirt embellished with corn husks and glitter.

Top image, hat - and the world's ubiquitous "foamy"

Middle image, Project Runway weep, this is a third grader's dress.

I'll be posting more soon about the school, but for now -- just time for a brief siesta before heading for that famous fish soup.




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San Antonio to San Salvador

The first impression: green, low grey heavy sky (that's the flow over from the hurricane on the other coast of Central America), and, at the airport, a surprising scarcity of tourists as measured against folks headed to their homeland from US work and relocation. As my colleague, friend and sister traveler Julia said, "The Salvadoran experience really starts when you get on the plane to San Salvador." Full of families going home, workers returning, loaded with gifts, full of stories, children and elders. Once in the city, the landscape is mountainous, with the city and its suburbs wrapped around and climbing up the steep green peaks wreathed in whisps of clouds. And, surprising my parochial expectations, FULL of American companies -- every fast food imaginable, glass blocks of Citi-Bank, an expansive sprawl of Legorreto designed mall, well, you get the picture.

We're here (and in Guatemala) for three weeks of working, talking, sharing, finding ways to support the maestros and directores from those who've returned from their year of education in San Antonio at Alamo Colleges. For the past 11 years of so, I've spent anywhere from a couple of weeks to several months (as it is this year) working with the maestros as a special instructor/designer, mostly teaching technical and material and design skills matched to creative curriculum development.

This is my first trip to Central America, and I'll be blogging here, and also, with more work-related posts on the posterous blog I've set up to use with the teachers and in the schools that have internet connections. If you want more than the artist's impressions and inspirations that I'll post here, surf over to those little posts and pictures to see more of what's going on in the schools we visit.