Slippery Rock University has displayed banners themed around Colombian culture on the lampposts on campus. The banners were created by students and are set to be displayed until Oct. 18.
Barbara Westman, associate professor of fiber art and printmaking, introduced to her advanced fiber art students a new idea for a project six years ago.
“Every fall my group creates individual banners. These are artworks handmade and designed by students,” Westman said. “This is an outdoor exhibition. It’s a great opportunity for my students . As in most cases when we create art it is installed indoors, in the gallery, in the studio and because this is an outdoor art it has very different requirements.”
Each student is responsible for creating their own individual banner, but as an entire class, they brainstorm ideas, ask each other for opinions, give advice to one another and connect through the common theme.
“It is a nice project to do at the beginning of the semester, because I have returning students and completely new students in one group,” Westman said. “I think this project is a good way to integrate students and feel close together.”
The theme of fall colors became a tradition for Westman’s class–that is, until this year. Inspiration struck and Westman decided to make a change to the project. Instead of fall colors, students can now look forward to creating banners based on global cultures.
“I’m from Poland,” Westman said. “I love traveling and meeting people from different cultures and different countries, so I thought these banners would be a nice introduction of different cultures to our students here on campus.”
Colombia is the first country to be represented through the students’ banners.
“We have Colombia, South America this time and we will see what is selected next year,” Westman said. “We will be moving from one location to another and try to get the essence of that culture and have that show in the students’ designs.”
The students had to do some research to gain background knowledge on Colombia and the culture before beginning the designs for the banners. Melissa Teodoro, associate professor of dance and a Colombian native, gave a very informative talk about the culture, history and everyday life in Colombia.
“We were just amazed by the culture, and what we saw in images,” Westman said. “It was just an amazing culture, so vibrant and wonderful.”
Students have to take a lot of aspects into consideration when starting to make the banners because of the outdoor setting that their artwork will be displayed in.
“Starting with materials we use, it has to be something that will stand the weather changes, the wind, the rain, all these things we get here in the fall,” Westman said. “We have special fabric and special paint. When it comes to concept, when it comes to design, we also have to consider that it’s going to be installed outdoors, which means we don’t have a white wall behind it. We have a blue sky, a gray sky, clouds or maybe we can see trees or buildings behind that artwork, which means the colors are changing; the colors are never the same, so that’s something else to consider. Details can’t really be included because you don’t see them from far away. Students need to have a different approach about for this kind of project and I think that’s why they like it.”
Capturing an entire culture into one banner proved a challenge for the students involved.
“The only struggle was how to narrow it down, how to simplify it, because you only have one banner,” Westman said.
Students must have a certain skillset to create a 50″x30″ double-sided banner.
“Students have to be very detail-oriented to match the designs on both sides,” Westman said. “Sides have to match perfectly, because you can see banners against the light and if these sections aren’t perfectly matched then you see it slightly disordered.”
After banners are installed, Westman and her students view their creations on a tour while they critique the banners for class credit.
“They’re proud of themselves, because this is maybe the first time they did something like this and it’s a new concept,” Westman said. “They see it up in a public space and they’re proud of it.”
The banners will be kept with Westman for the eventual goal of creating enough banners throughout the years to showcase cultures all over SRU campus.
“I store them, and hopefully next fall there will be a new place in the world presented here on campus through our banners, and at the end, after a few years, maybe we can fill up the whole campus with our creations,” Westman said. “Every single lamppost will represent a different culture.”
The special fabrics and paints are costly.
“This project is sponsored every fall by the Dean’s office and for the first time this year, it’s sponsored by the Hispanic/Latino Committee here on campus,” Westman said. “Without their help, we wouldn’t have the funds to create these banners.”
The project will continue on as tradition for years to come with its new theme of global cultures.
“It’s not just the community and the university that benefits from having banners created for the campus, but also my students,” Westman said.