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UMD Art Education Student:
UMD Art Education student Kelsey Engel is working on a project that has changed the way she views art education. Through the design of a Finnish art education curriculuum, she and others helped elementary school children create welcome banners to hang in the registration area at FinnFest 2008, a summer festival to be held in Duluth in July.
“Craft and fine art merge when we learn about folk art and traditional images,” she said. “Bringing folk art into elementary schools is a wonderful way to pass on the history of a culture to young students.”
Engel, who will do her student teaching in Spring 2009 just before she graduates, received a UROP (Undergraduate Research Opportunities Program) grant to assist Associate Professor Alison Aune. Their project is to develop a cross-cultural Finnish folk art and design curriculum. The practical application of the curriculum involved creating the decorative banners for FinnFest 2008. Engel, Aune and 28 other UMD art education students developed and taught lessons on Finnish design to first, third and fourth graders in Susan Ranfranz's art classes at Laura MacArthur School.
The art education students studied traditional and contemporary Finnish domestic textiles as sources of inspiration for creative innovations in design. Students collected and analyzed the decorative-symbolic motifs found in Finnish historic and contemporary textiles and domestic artifacts as cross cultural sources of artistic inspiration. “We brought in items that would show Finnish and Scandinavian aesthetics,” Engel said. “Historic textiles, glass, and Marimekko fabrics were some pieces we used for inspiration. All of a sudden, we saw Scandinavian-inspired design everywhere we looked, even at Target. They went home to their families and brought back knitted patterns and plates. One of my classmates sent a cellphone picture of a dress she found at Old Navy!”
The college students researched and reinterpreted design motifs based on the natural landscapes and artistic immigrant traditions of Finland and northern Minnesota (i.e. lakes, woods, rocks, animals and Finnish legends). Engel said the elementary school students responded to this approach. “There are many similarities between Finland and Minnesota,” she said. “Children see the same birds, deer, trees and flowers here. Even saunas are familiar to them.”
The feminist aesthetic in folk art was emphasized. The college class and the elementary school classes were encouraged to create new work by examining women's contributions to Finnish and Finnish-American art and design. “We used embroidery and dish towels as inspiration,” Engel said.
Aune and Engle will travel to Finland in September to present the project at an international conference, "Crafticulation and Education." The conference is hosted by the University of Helsinki, Department of Home Economics & Craft Science.
This isn't the first project Engel has taken on that explores the art of other cultures. She also worked with Aune on an art education project called Tulip and Arabesque: An International Collaboration that used Turkish design motifs.
"I'm especially interested in how art moves from country to country," Engle said. In the case of Turkey, their rugs were traded around the world. You can see Turkish rugs in European paintings that go back as far as the 15th Century. In Finland, their art moved around the world as people immigrated to other countries. Finns brought the culture and an old-county design sense to the U.S."
"I grew up on an Indian reservation so seeing how cultures express themselves is important to me," Engle said. Finnish design and American Indian art are both important pieces of the cultural heritage in northern Minnesota. Art education is a vehicle to keep the imagery and culture alive.
Engel wants to use her skill in using craft and fine art to teach the history of different cultures. She plans to teach on an American Indian reservation when she graduates.
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