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Nora Redfern


"I'm always looking for meaningful ways to celebrate Black History Month that tie into an art project," Nora Redfern told Education World. "It took several years to come up with the Micrography Project."

"I wanted something that would include all the students and, hopefully, the faculty, too," Redfern continued. She first considered having her seventh and eighth grade art students at Liberty-Eylau Middle School in Texarkana, Texas, create a photo mosaic of Martin Luther King Jr. using their yearbook photos. With 800 photos and size and color issues to handle, however, Redfern thought that would be too challenging. Recalling the art of "micrography," or using words to form a design, she decided instead to use that as the basis for a powerful group art project.

First Redfern and a few student assistants used an overhead projector to project a large transparency image of Dr. King onto a wall. They then traced the significant lines in the image onto brown builder's paper (to simulate brown skin color) to create a silhouette-like drawing. The drawing was done in three sections, each about three feet wide by eight feet long, so the entire portrait measured nine feet wide by eight feet long.

Signatures fill in portrait details.

After the outline was traced, Redfern and her helpers took the portrait down from the wall and distributed one section to each of three social studies teachers on campus. In their social studies classrooms, students signed their names to their section of the portrait, in the areas that would become Dr. King's hair, nose, mouth, mustache, eyes, brows and significant shadow lines.

"I suggested a very simple oath or promise to repeat as students signed their names to the portrait -- 'I promise to not judge people by what they look like,'" Redfern told Education World. "Sometimes the whole class took the oath; sometimes they did it individually before they signed the portrait."

Faculty members also sign the portrait and take the oath.

After all the students had signed the portrait, it was reassembled and Redfern added a border to it. The finished product was displayed in the cafeteria and served as a backdrop during the school's Black History Month program. The students were very enthusiastic about the project, and Redfern sensed that they were proud to have their opinion count in such a concrete manner.

"Kids of this age like to be a part of a group," observed Redfern. "The students also enjoyed finding their signatures again after the portrait was reassembled and hung in the cafeteria. The students thought the end result was very cool!"

Liberty-Eylau Middle School honors Martin Luther King Jr. with this micrography project.

Participation in the project was not mandatory, and a few students chose not to participate. Redfern reports that those kids were given space to wrestle with their thoughts. This was the students' first micrography project, and although more signatures could have been included, the effect was achieved. Redfern was impressed with the beauty of the portrait and its striking appearance. The art form was so successful that she is looking for other opportunities to include it in her classes.

"I had thought about using micrography for several years and knew that I just had to try it and learn from it," added Redfern. "The more planning and preparation the students and cooperating teachers do, the better, but sometimes you just have to start." One thing she has discovered is that it is wise to give social studies teachers ample time to really discuss Martin Luther King Jr., and his significance to our country.

In the future, Redfern would like to make the oath signing more of a ceremonious event. She finds it helpful to have an individual, either a responsible student or teacher, standing by to ensure that the students sign their names in the proper places to produce the correct effect. Redfern uses a traditional permanent marker to give the portrait a uniform look.

Photos provided by Nora Redfern.

Article by Cara Bafile
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