Crocker School kids draw on historical picture books for library banner project

Molly Valentine, a Crocker Farm Elementary student, works with librarian and teacher Waleska Santiago-Centeno on panels for the Memory Project. For the project, students created hanging banners featuring women from picture books they have read in the library.

Molly Valentine, a Crocker Farm Elementary student, works with librarian and teacher Waleska Santiago-Centeno on panels for the Memory Project. For the project, students created hanging banners featuring women from picture books they have read in the library. STAFF PHOTOS/CAROL LOLLIS—

Coco Campbell, Ariadne Hill and Greyson Westort, Crocker Farm Elementary students, work on panels for the Memory Project.

Coco Campbell, Ariadne Hill and Greyson Westort, Crocker Farm Elementary students, work on panels for the Memory Project. STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS—

Hannah Pishro-Nik, a Crocker Farm Elementary student, works on panels for the Memory Project.

Hannah Pishro-Nik, a Crocker Farm Elementary student, works on panels for the Memory Project.

Coco Campbell, Ariadne Hill and Greyson Westort, Crocker Farm Elementary students,work on panels for the Memory Project spearheaded by librarian and teacher Waleska Santiago-Centeno. For the project the students created hanging banners featuring women from picture books they have read in the library.

Coco Campbell, Ariadne Hill and Greyson Westort, Crocker Farm Elementary students,work on panels for the Memory Project spearheaded by librarian and teacher Waleska Santiago-Centeno. For the project the students created hanging banners featuring women from picture books they have read in the library. STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

Molly Valentine, a Crocker Farm Elementary student, works with other students on panels for the Memory Project spearheaded by librarian and teacher Waleska Santiago-Centeno. For the project students created hanging banners featuring women from picture books they have read in the library.

Molly Valentine, a Crocker Farm Elementary student, works with other students on panels for the Memory Project spearheaded by librarian and teacher Waleska Santiago-Centeno. For the project students created hanging banners featuring women from picture books they have read in the library. STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

By SCOTT MERZBACH

Staff Writer

Published: 04-16-2024 5:03 PM

AMHERST — An unfolded brown paper bag is being transformed, through use of crayons, pencils and paint markers, into a banner showcasing an acclaimed American naturalist, artist and academic.

“I think Anna Comstock was very impressive in her work,” says Coco Campbell, a fifth-grader at Crocker Farm School, who has spent several hours during library class making the piece, inspired by reading the picture book “Out of School and Into Nature” and its watercolor illustrations.

Nearby, fifth-grader Ariadne Hill is completing a similar banner based on “Cloth Lullaby: The Woven Life of Louise Bourgeois,” a picture book about the French-American woman whose mother made tapestries and led her to create large-scale sculptures, including famed spiders.

“I thought this was really cool,” Ariadne said. “I really wanted to incorporate her spider sculptures.”

“Kids are crazy about the spiders,” observes Waleska Santiago-Centeno, the librarian overseeing the banner project.

The idea of taking picture books the students have read at the school and turning them into art banners and biographical sketches is a multicultural, interdisciplinary project Santiago-Centeno is coordinating for fifth-graders that brings together recognition of Women’s History Month in March, Earth Day on April 22 and World Book Day on April 23.

Titled “The Memory Project: Books, Women and the Environment,” its inspiration came from her visit to an exhibition titled “28 Remarkable Women … and One Scoundrel” at The Museum at Eldridge Street, located in a synagogue built in 1887 on Manhattan’s Lower East Side. There, mixed media portraits by artist Adrienne Ottenberg, printed on silk and cotton banners, were displayed, focusing on women who lived or worked there at the turn of the 20th century.

“I said, ‘I’d like to bring this to Crocker Farm,’” Santiago-Centeno said.

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About 44 banners will be displayed by the students, each including an image from a picture book and student-created text. An opening reception is set for April 26 from 3:30 to 6 p.m. at the school library.

“This is about having an age-appropriate conversation about the world in which they live,” Santiago-Centeno said, noting that all picture books include authentic details about their subjects and teach students how the world is constructed from differences as they showcase remarkable facets of different cultures, races and ethnicities.

“Everything I teach my students has meaning in history,” said Santiago-Centeno, who brings expertise in museum studies and as an art historian.

Santiago-Centeno has a library website that is not only a resource for students to find picture books on a specific topic, such as Indigenous, LGBTQ or Asian culture, but is also accessible to teachers, staff and the community.

“Everything I do is documented, so all parents know what their students are doing,” Santiago-Centeno said.

“The good thing about being in the library is we can do this across curriculum, bringing together art and culture,” she said. “They can write about what they remember about the book.”

The subjects of the banners include female rabbi Osnat Barzani, an Iraqi woman born in 1590; 20th century American LGBTQ rights pioneer Jeanne Manford; 20th century Italian fashion designer Elsa Schiaparelli; 19th century African American Mary Walker, who learned to read at 116; and contemporary Indigenous author Ria Thundercloud.

There also is 20th century Mexican painter Frida Kahlo; 20th century African American painter Alma Thomas, whose work was put on display at the White House by first lady Michelle Obama; 20th century Cuban ballerina Alicia Alonso; 20th century artist Ruth Asawa; Revolutionary War American spy Anna Strong; and contemporary artist Maya Lin, whose contributions have included designing the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington, D.C., and more recently the redesign of the Neilson Library at Smith College.

“Of course, we have to have Emily Dickinson,” she added, but others are about less-heralded women, like “The Water Lady” who gets water to those on a Navajo reservation.

“Students love this,” Santiago-Centeno said.

Fifth-grader Jay Freeman is completing a banner on the picture book “Danza!,” about 20th century Mexican ballet choreographer Amalia Hernandez. “It’s about a woman who really likes to dance,” Jay said.

“I tried really hard to copy the art styles, the nose and lips, and used paint markers for the letters, which are supposed to be shiny,” Jay said.

Jay also is finishing a banner for “One Plastic Bag,” about a contemporary Gambian, Isatou Ceesay, who Jay said is sad because everything is covered in plastic.

Fifth-grader Molly Valentine is doing the banner for “Muslim Girls Rise,” about 19 Muslim women. Molly unfolds the paper bag, then replicates the book’s cover, which depicts six of the subjects.

“I tried to get the colors right,” Molly said.

Modern Japanese artist Yayoi Kusama is featured in “From Here to Infinity.” Fifth-grader Greyson Westort attempted to replicate her dots and abstract art, using colored pencils, crayons and paint markers.

“It looked pretty cool, in my opinion,” Greyson said. “I’m trying to get it to look like the (book) cover.”

Greyson also is tackling a picture book about Malala Yousafzai, the contemporary Pakistani activist and Nobel Peace Prize winner who has pushed for free and fair elections.

Mahani Teave, a contemporary classical pianist from Easter Island, Chile, is featured in the “The Girl Who Heard the Music,” with the banner created by fifth-grader Hannah Pishro-Nik, who also did “The Art and Life of Hilma af Klint,” the 20th century Swedish artist.

“It still turned out well,” Hannah said of the piece. “I tried to get darker colors and, for her hand and feet, tried different colors of orange and red.”

“Ada’s Violin: The Story of the Recycled Orchestra” a story about a girl who lives on a landfill site in Paraguay, is another banner done by Ariadne. “She really wanted to play violin and she made a violin of out of trash.” Ariadne’s banner shows flying pieces of white paper. “That’s pretty cool,” Ariadne said.

Wardah Al-Awadhi is a pareducator who lent a hand with the project. “It’s amazing she came up with the idea,” Al-Awadhi said of Santiago-Centeno. “I loved helping with this project.”

Students are looking forward to the exhibit.

“It’s fun to do a project about these women and share them with people,” Coco said.

“I loved this project,” Ariadne said. “I love to do art stuff, and I love libraries, so this is bringing us the perfect project.”

Scott Merzbach can be reached at smerzbach@gazettenet.com.