In this second series of art activities inspired by Betye Saar, we work on whimsical projects using miscellaneous materials. These were a lot of fun for the kids to work on because they were given freedom to make use of almost anything they could find.
PROJECT 3: BRIC-A-BRAC OUTDOOR MOBILE
Materials: Sticks, string, random objects to hang such as dried flowers, fuzzy wires, muffin cups, bottle caps, felt, beads, bells, etc
This project is similar to making an assemblage as it involves collecting objects to put together, but instead of building inside an empty box, they string them up into a decorative mobile.
- Prepare a pair of sticks (or cut one long stick into half) and tie them together perpendicularly to make an X
- Prepare four strings of approximately the same length
- Decorate these strings with random objects you find that you like and make you happy. If you have fuzzy wires, form them into your favorite shapes. Make sure they are securely attached so none of them slip off
- Once all four strings have been embellished, tie the top end of each string onto the sticks
Hang these up a tree in your garden or by the window in your room. They are really pretty when blown by the wind. Let them serve as happy thought mobiles. Every time you look at them, remember things that make you feel good, happy and strong.
“It may not be possible to convey to someone else the mysterious transforming gifts by which dreams, memory, and experience become art. But I like to think that I can try.”Betye Saar, 1986
PROJECT 4: MAGIC SKY BANNER
I saw this embroidered piece by Betye Saar and loved it. It is actualy an intricate beadwork on fabric. She has this fascination for astrological elements that is a recurring theme in her work.
Even though I found no background story on this specific piece, I’d like to think that this is her attempting to capture the beauty of celestial spaces, the magical and the mysterious, with awe and wonder. It’s the stuff of dreams, which, like a child, she holds on to and translates into art.
This is a project that involves very basic sewing and is a good way for them to get started learning how. If you can manage to teach the kids to do a running stitch, that’s all you need to put together this project.
Materials: Fabric, needle, thread, felt scraps
- Before you begin, take some time to think about the sky with your kids. If you have a window, backyard or balcony from where you can look up at the sky, go there and look up with them. Make them point out things they like about the sky and those will be elements they’ll put in their piece.
- Cut felt or fabric scraps into shapes of the sun, moon, clouds or whatever heavenly elements they choose
- Sew the shapes onto a bigger piece of fabric to create a picture of a sky
- Attach it on a stick or dowel and hang up with a string
I like this project because the idea is simple. It encourages us to look upward. Just the gesture of looking up sometimes seem so alien to us as busy beings who are constantly looking down on our mobile phones and computer screens. Looking up reminds us that there is a bigger world out there full of wonders we’ve never seen. And I find that hopeful.
Apart from magic, whimsy and the cosmic, Betye Saar is also known for injecting references of racial prejudice and social injustice to her work. She flips derogatory images of black people into heroic symbols of strength and resilience and paints a picture of what a female African American hopes for. These serious political issues give her creative energy to produce beautiful and revolutionary art pieces.
With all the hate, violence and injustice going on around the world today, I appreciate the legacy of Betye Saar even more. It is very timely to be learning about her life and work right now. While these are topics that seem to be too complex for children, I believe it’s not too early to start talking to them about race, equality and embracing differences. Art is definitely a good tool we can use to educate them and ourselves. Thanks to artists like Betye who produce art that contribute to the dialogue, inspire, enlighten and liberate.
If you are a mom with three kids, you can’t go to a march, but you can make work that deals with your anger.Betye Saar
Here is another short film about Betye Saar worth watching, released Jan 2020: The Groundbreaking Artist Who’s Not Slowing Down at 93