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Detail of Student Made Gee's Bend style paper quilt

Student artists in Kindergarten through 6th grades examined the beautiful quilts of Gee’s Bend, Alabama. The tradition of quilting is well-established in Gee’s Bend where the community has created a distinct visual vocabulary. These quilts are created by a community of women in rural Alabama many of whom trace their ancestry back to the era of slavery. Gee’s Bend quilters use scraps of old clothing the quilts were originally designed for practical uses. However, due to the uniqueness of their designs, they have become an important African American visual and cultural contribution to the history of art and the transcendent designs have been showcased around the world.

Like the quilters of Gee’s Bend, we worked together to create an NPS paper quilt.  Each student’s square represents his or her unique contribution to our community; the squares are “stitched” together with our Core Values.

In the Upper Division, we considered the questions, “Can everyday objects like quilts be art?  Why or why not?  What makes something art?  Who decides?”


“Yes, it is art because it has colors and shapes – the elements of art!” – 5th grader


“It’s art because it was made.  Someone took the time to make it.” – 3rd grader


“They didn’t just make it out of random scraps, they had to decide where to place things.” – 3rd grader


“I don’t think it’s art because it’s something you use.” – 4th grader


“It’s creative!  And it’s pretty!  That makes it art.” – 6th grader


We learned that the quilters themselves did not consider their work “art” as they were making it.  Did this change our thinking about whether or not the quilts are art?  For the students, it did not.  However, it did get us wondering about the human impulse to create something beautiful.

Upper Division artists are practicing Project Zero's Studio Thinking Habits of Mind:

  • developing craft
  • engaging and persisting
  • envisioning, observing
  • stretching and exploring
  • expressing
  • understanding art communities
  • reflecting

For this project, this means that students learned about the art community in Gee's Bend and used observational skills to analyze the quilts. They envisioned and sketched their own designs using geometric shapes and symmetrical balance. They focused on developing craftsmanship and engaging as artists to stretch the complexity of their compositions.  Students reflected on their work in a gallery walk and peer feedback session. Explicit discussion of these natural thinking habits is a metacognitive practice that allows students to increase their sense of agency in art and transfer the thinking skills to other disciplines.

Our Lower Division students participated in a See, Think, Wonder activity which gave them an opportunity to view, appreciate and discuss the quilts; how and why they were made and used, their colors and designs as well as the community of artists who create them.

Each student chose different colored paper shapes, arranged them and glued them to create their own unique design for our community quilt.

Our NPS school community is a place where each person can discover and express their unique identity. Like the quilters of Gee’s Bend, we worked together to create this quilt. Each student’s square represents his or her special role in our school community.  The finished art piece visually expresses our Core Values of Love, Respect, Honesty, Responsibility, and Safety which we teach and practice each day.


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