Art teacher Thankful Davis spent the month of February focusing on African American artists and artwork in celebration of Black History Month.

PK and kindergarten students explored the art of quilting, especially the quilts created by the Gee’s Bend community, also known as Boykin and surrounded on three sides by the Alabama River. Many residents of Gee’s Bend, which only number in the hundreds, are descendants of slaves and have been making quilts since the mid-1800s. Mrs. Davis taught the children the meaning behind many different designs in traditional quilt squares and how those influenced artists. “We were inspired by traditional designs and emulated many of them in our work. We also produced our own squares using the same geometric shapes found in traditional quilting,” she said.

First grade students learned about Faith Ringgold, an American artist and author. “We looked at her books and illustrations, particularly studying the story quilts she created curing her career. Her creativity inspired us to create our own story quilt squares,” Mrs. Davis said. “We learned about the challenges that Faith Ringgold faced and how she used art as a vehicle to overcome them. Her story resonated with many of our children and was a source of inspiration for them to continue developing their artists voices.” Mrs. Davis also talked about how some museums, such as the Whitney Museum of Art in New York, did not allow African American women to display works in their galleries. However, today, one of her works is displayed in the Whitney.

Second graders explored the life of jazz and blues singer Bessie Smith, who was born in Chattanooga, and learned about the vibrant “Big Nine” music scene of Chattanooga during the 1940s and late 50s. Mrs. Davis also introduced them to the art of Charles White. “His monochromatic style influenced the collaborative mural of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. that we created. The power in White’s images is achieved in part due to his limited color palette,” she said.

Third and fifth graders explored growth mindset and the importance of learning through the process not just the product. “Sometimes the product is not the most important thing, even when creating art. We explored the art of Kelsey Montague and her large-scale murals. Her campaign #whatliftsyou challenges students to define the things in their lives that inspire them. We worked together to create collaborative artworks that showcase individual student work as well as large scale composition,” Mrs. Davis said.

Fourth graders explored the art of modern, conceptual artist Kara Walker. “We focused our study on the narrative silhouettes she creates to tell the stories of our forgotten history. Students were challenged to convey their own narratives through a silhouette painting. They choose colors and patterns in their backgrounds that embody their individual personalities,” Mrs. Davis said.