The 20 Neighborhoods workshops in Chinatown took place at the Chinese American Service League (CASL), a facility founded to support the needs of Chinese immigrants and Chinese Americans in Chicago. The organization provides a wide variety of services to the community; the building has everything from childcare to cooking classes to elderly services. The 20 Neighborhoods workshops engaged specifically with elderly women who take part in CASL’s Adult Day Program.
Teaching artist Elaine Luther was responsible for developing and implementing the workshop activities with the group at CASL. She and teaching artist Stephanie Wernet, who led workshops at House of the Good Shepherd, worked together to ensure that despite their distance, both of their groups would experience some elements of the cross-community collaborations that were the focus of this year’s 20 Neighborhoods Project. Both groups worked with batik, an ancient form of painting on cloth with wax and dye. In a more direct exchange, women from both groups worked together to create paper chains. The women at House of the Good Shepherd created paper links inscribed with a neighborhood or city that held symbolic importance for them. Women from CASL lengthened the chain by answering the question, “What is the best advice you have ever given?” The women wrote their answers on a strip of paper, and then added them to the original links from HGS, creating many long chains.
The women began their final project by going on a photo walk through Chinatown, with instructions to look for colors and patterns that they had not previously noticed. They used their photos to create ‘Inspiration Boards”, and from there began their project of creating images on fabric using batik, fabric dye, and pounded flowers. The main focus of the workshops was the creation of a large canvas of collective pieces of fabric that had been both batiked and dyed by pounding flowers with hammers to extract the pigment. When it was time to hammer the flowers, the women showed more strength than one might have expected from such sweet elderly ladies!
Next, the women assembled their pieces of fabric in a patchwork-like pattern onto a large stretched canvas, creating a beautiful collective artwork that resembled a quilt made of pastel-colored cloth. Teaching Artist Elaine Luther reports that when they were finished, many of the women decided that it didn’t look “quite Chinese enough”, so they decided to add a red and gold border; two very important colors in Chinese art and culture.
Prior to the final exhibition at Woman Made Gallery, CASL hosted a Community Showcase and Exhibition in their grand hall. It was a grand affair, with many staff members and Chinese newspaper journalists in attendance. CASL president Bernarda Wong addressed the crowd, and praised the women for their beautiful work. Other art created by seniors in the Adult Day Program was also on display, including last year’s 20 Neighborhoods project, which was some of the first art created by seniors at CASL. The highlight was a demonstration in which the women sat around a table and created a fast version of a collaborative fabric collage to show all in attendance the work behind their masterpiece.
Finally, the gallery hosted some of the seniors from the Adult Day Program at the final 20 Neighborhoods exhibition. We talked about their project, and some of the other art on display. Hope to see you and your clients again soon, CASL!
–Lydia Shepard, 20 Neighborhoods Intern