by Jerry Slayton
This summer saw Texans across the state adjusting their day-to-day lives in an effort to stay safe during the Covid-19 pandemic. The news changed by the minute, which left most of us feeling unsure of what was coming next. It was during this time of change that a few dozen art students embarked on an exploration into the history of this great state. Perhaps it was the idea that the history of Texas, and its people, could serve as a bridge to understanding humanity. That art and history could shed light on previous Texans that had to endure traumatic times and overcome hardships. And just maybe that making art could provide perspective during a time when it was much needed.
On June the 3rd, 2020, our Texas Stories class launched via YouTube and online virtual classes. The 8 part series provided education and built connection between the arts, Texas history, and the participants involved. Throughout June and July students received video art lessons, which were then followed-up with a virtual class where they further explored the topic. Art Spark Instructor Jerry Slayton led the class and was joined by a different guest speaker each week. Each class concluded with time for questions and an opportunity for participants to share their artwork.
Lesson 1 focused on an Austin legend, Elisabet Ney. Elisabet was one of the most prominent commissioned Texas sculptors of the mid 1800s, and her museum, located here in Austin, holds a number of her master works. Special guest, Sarah Porter from the Ney Museum, lead students through Elisabet’s trailblazing biography in which she broke numerous cultural and social norms. One of her social quirks was to fly a flag from her rooftop whenever she was home, so in remembrance of Miss Ney students created their own flag designs.
In Lesson 2 students followed the building techniques of a first peoples of Texas, the Caddo Indians of East Texas. The art lesson involved creating a paper collage by following the steps that the Caddo used to build their homes. Special guest, Rachel Galan, opened our eyes to the rich agricultural history of the Caddo people and the earthen mounds that they constructed for ceremonial purposes. The Caddo Mound State Historic Site is located outside of Nacogdoches, TX and is home to several mound structures for viewing.
Each class in the 8 part series had several highlights but perhaps Lesson 4, The Buffalo Soldiers story, stands out for a number of reasons. Our special guest Private Allen Mack of the Living History Foundation dressed in full period specific uniform and performed an engaging account of what life was like for young African-American soldiers of the 9 and 10th infantry. His passion for the topic incited a wonderful discussion and seemed to excite students to share their bandanna art projects throughout the rest of class.
Then finally, just when we felt the history couldn’t get any richer, Lesson 7 on the Coahuiltecan People of South Texas came around. Guest Speaker, Maria Rocha of the Indigenous Cultures Institute, engaged participants through her wonderful story-telling of the Coahuiltecan Creation Story. For her 15 minute lecture we were all teleported to a time and space long ago, around a fire, where tribal elders shared the origins of the known world. Students shared their picture comic projects, which also followed the creation story. It was truly magical.
If hearing about these Texas Stories has sparked your interest, I strongly encourage you to join us this fall for Texas Stories, Volume 2 classes. It promises to be a fun and engaging series that provides everyone with new artistic tools as well as an education in the history of our area. Registration info can be found in the link below!