Introduction to Common Threads
On view: April 12, 2016 – May 26, 2016
Hilltop Artists students have been hard at work designing and producing glass art inspired by Kantha embroidery – a textile artform from South Asia that tells stories through patterns and symbols. Students have investigated folk art and storytelling throughout the school year, translating what they learn into unique glass art. Students have used diverse techniques for the exhibition, including sandcasting, blown glass, fusion, and mosaics.
Read below to learn more about how this fascinating exhibition came to fruition!
At the beginning of the 2015-16 school year, Cathy Stevulak and Leonard Hill – co-Producers of THREADS – visited the hot shop and introduced students to Kantha. THREADS is the story of Surayia Rahman, a self-trained, passionate artist who guided hundreds of underprivileged women in Bangladesh to create Kantha masterworks. The documentary film has been shown around the world at several film festivals.
Details of Kantha embroidery
Cathy and Leonard’s hot shop visit was a treat for students and staff. They explained that Kantha originated as a way to re-use old saris. Tattered saris could be pieced together with tight stitching and made into new items, such as bedspreads. Women might add decorations and designs, but their primary use was utilitarian. Surayia Rahman knew they could be so much more and encouraged the practice of hanging the textiles as art. She turned this into an opportunity to empower vulnerable women, giving them a respected job with livable wages.
This use of art to improve the prospects of individuals resonates with the Hilltop Artists mission to connect young people to better futures.
Kantha-style textiles have become very popular in the United States in recent years and can be found in many chain stores. In the spirit of Surayia’s achievements, however, we recommend buying Kantha from a ethical fair trade source, such as Dignify.
Cathy and Leonard also shared the powerful storytelling capabilities of Kantha and led students through an exercise to draw their own stories. This presentation was the perfect springboard to dive into creating glass art inspired by Kantha embroidery. As can be seen in the student-made art, our youth have incorporated ideas from Kantha in a variety of creative ways.
Daytime students at Jason Lee Middle School explored Kantha through sandcasting.
First, they learned about the process of sandcasting – a new technique for them. They worked together to create sandcast blocks using intricate wooden stamps from India. The wood stamps exhibit similar designs and creatures as can be seen in Kantha embroidery.
For the next part of the project, each student brought in an object with personal meaning, such as jewelry, mementos, and toys. They pressed their object into the sand, creating a mold into which molten glass was poured. The students then wrote short stories about what their object means to them.
The students’ stories reveal common themes – friendship, family, love, and loss – that can also be seen in Kantha. This gives our students insight into the human experience, whether we’re in the same town or live in different countries around the world.
Here are some of the stories behind students’ found objects:
“I brought in 2 objects. The first was a piece of a shell box. When my cat died before I moved, I made it the gravestone. When we moved I brought the shell box piece with me. The second item was a sea shell which my Grandma brought me from Hawaii.”
“I have the wings. The wings were part of a figure named Castle. He’s on a show called Supernatural and the character means a lot to me; by that he shows caring and strength for such a long time.”
“My found object is a paper flower and I chose this flower because I made it for my Mom as a Mother’s Day gift.”
The blown glass art seen in Common Threads was made by high school students in Team Production at Jason Lee and After School students at Wilson High School.
Team Production students made sculptural glass artworks in the shape of paisley, a traditional decoration in Kantha embroidery. Paisley originated as an organic form, a stylized representation of a vegetable or pine cone, but it has evolved into design motif. The curved raindrop shape makes for a dynamic glass object. The students also incorporated murrini, cross-sections of cane that make colorful patterns, into their glass art. The murrini they chose echo the mandalas and flowers that can be found in Kantha.
Bits of murrini
After School students at Wilson High School have also created innovative artwork for the exhibition.
They have highlighted traditional animals from Kantha, such as the elephant, in their sculpted glass art. To add designs and patterns, they employed sandblasting, a cold-working process done after a blown glass item has cooled. Abrasive sand etches designs into glass, transforming a shiny surface to matte. Sandblasting can also remove a top layer of glass to reveal a different color underneath.
Students in Daytime and After School classes at Jason Lee Middle School have made colorful fused glass art for Common Threads.
Fusion provides an excellent means for taking concepts from Kantha and adapting them into glass. Fused glass squares evoke the idea of quilt squares. Each are beautiful on their own, but they can also be composed into something bigger. Students borrowed Kantha motifs, such as mandalas, and rendered them in glass.
Kantha embroidery (left); Fused glass (right).
Daytime students at Jason Lee Middle School found that using thin strands of glass, called stringers, would allow them to create images that mimic the stitching seen in Kantha. Some of these squares were assembled into larger panel, framed with designs. Together, they reflect the look of a complete Kantha quilt.
Students composing their mosaic around a fused glass square.
After School students at Jason Lee used stencils to make colorful and intricate glass designs. They then took the fused square and integrated it into a mosaic. The small glass squares in the mosaic continue the colors and design started in the fused glass piece.
Thank you to our students
These Hilltop Artists students contributed their time and effort to creating Common Threads: A Glass Exploration in Kantha Embroidery. Thank you!
Lady Eva Mona Patu
Sadie Mae Potts
Fidel Soto Jr.