Weaving the world together at Atholton Elementary

From Native American to African cultures, weaving is a prominent art form all around the world. And with the unveiling of a huge woven artwork they helped create at Atholton Elementary School Friday, Columbia students have helped strengthen the ties that bind — and weave — us all together.

“Weaving is a part of nearly every culture,” said Atholton’s artist-in-residence, Nancy Charamella, who is a member of the Weavers Guild of Greater Baltimore. “It’s a part of these kids’ heritage. They are tied in to the world’s culture.”

Charamella’s residency and the resulting artwork was made possible through a grant from the Howard County Arts Council, Howard County government, the Maryland State Arts Council, Target and the Columbia Foundation. Charamella provided two table looms, and parents donated yarn for the project.

Throughout the course of three weeks in October, Charamella pulled third-, fourth- and fifth-grade students in two pairs out of Laurie Stewart’s art class to work on table looms. One student wove while the other treadled, and then they switched. The students got to pick the color and weave of their woven strips of yarn, and if they made a mistake, Charamella didn’t correct them — a mistake isn’t a mistake, she said, but a design element. And when it came to the colors, Charamella only asked them to “think about the colors weavers before you chose, and try to pick something different,” she said.

As a result of the students’ free reign, and the yarn donated by parents, the five-by-eight foot woven tapestry is a hodge-podge of designs and colors, including vibrant neon pink and earthy brown.

In addition to the cultural element, Charamella said weaving also involves mechanics and math — lots of it.

“Patterns are a huge part of math and art,” she said. “The tie-in to the curriculum is so easy to make.”

Atholton Principal Denise Lancaster said that students might not always think of weaving — arguably something that surrounds them on a daily basis — as a fine art. But it is, and offering it at Atholton is way to provide balance programming in the school.

“We want children to experience different forms of art, and we have so many students who excel at this who might not excel in other areas of academics,” she said.

In the same way that weaving connects the students to a larger, world culture, so too did Charamella connect the individual pieces — 12 yards worth of weaving by the end of the residency — into the larger artwork.

And students were looking for their pieces at the unveiling. Fourth-grader Essie Brocolino pointed proudly to a narrow strip of pink toward the bottom of the piece. Her friend, Laura Keister, said after learning more about weaving at school, she was learning how to arm-weave.

Annemarie Habiger, an Atholton parent, said Charamella’s residency opened up a whole new world for her family.

“We didn’t know anything about textiles, really,” she said. “Now the kids are talking about at home and we ask them, well, what do you think this fabric is? Is it woven, knitted? It was a great project, and clearly the kids got into it.”

In Stewart’s class, as Charamella worked with small groups at a time, other students wove on pieces of cardboard, creating little pouches or headbands and wristbands, some of which are also on display in Atholton’s hallways. Students pointed out their work in that display to their parents as well Friday night.

“There’s a pouch in there with my name on it,” said fourth-grader Paige McPhillips. “Weaving’s fun. When I have a lot of energy in me, I sit down and do it and it calms me down.”

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