By Chris Maza
WILBRAHAM – As part of Black History Month, fifth grade students at Soule Road School took part in a project than incorporated a study in culture as well as artistic design.
Students in art teacher Dyann Pederzani’s classes created their own African masks utilizing colors and symbols found in traditional tribal masks and displayed them on Feb. 11 at an exhibit in the school’s cafeteria that drew hundreds of people.
“I taught them about all these different tribes, the name of the tribe and what their specific characteristic is. Every tribe has a characteristic, so they had to take the identifying characteristics and incorporate four of them. A lot of kids used all of them,” Pederzani explained.
Students were also required to utilize just four traditional African colors – yellow, red, green and black – each of which holds particular significance.
“Yellow is for the sun that sustains the African people; black is their skin; green is the abundant African land; and red is the blood that unites all people,” Pederzani explained.
She said the students also learned about the variety of uses for different masks, whether functional, ceremonial or decorative.
Students engaged in what Pederzani called “an involved process” of studying the symbols and colors and determining how they would be incorporated in their own individual masks.
From there, the students sketched rough drafts on paper and through a school-wide initiative to include writing and literacy in all subjects, were required to self-critique their work by writing about what their thought process was and how they would improve upon their design.
They then were able to build the masks using paper mache.
As involved as the project was, Pederzani said the work was completed in just eight 40-minute class periods.
In addition to learning of other cultures, one of the things Pederzani said the project clearly illustrated was the diversity in ideas and thinking among children, even those in the same grade.
“Every fifth grade student followed the same directions using the same materials, yet every mask is unique and different,” she said. “It’s all I talk about with the kids – creativity and imagination. That’s what I love about art.”