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Associate Professor Studies Ancient Art Symbols in Ghana

Posted 01/14/2011
Posted by Meagan Fazio

It all began with a 40-foot-long drawing of a collage made of Helvetica vinyl lettering.

In 2008 Carol Padberg, an associate professor in the Hartford Art School, had a solo show at Real Art Ways in Hartford, Conn. Her work, which explored the concept of coded information, involved a collage made of Helvetica vinyl lettering that was then cut into strips and re-assembled. The finished work was an enlarged reproduction of the adhesive vinyl applied directly to the gallery wall.

Someone who saw her show suggested that it looked like African Kente cloth, which dates back to the 12th century in Ghana, West Africa. Kente cloth is handwoven in strips measuring about 4 inches wide on treadle looms. Weavers then sew the strips together to make larger pieces of cloth for clothing. The symbols on the cloth are a visual code that refers to African proverbs, fables, oral history, and other topics.

Around the same time, Padberg went to an exhibit at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York that featured the work of West African artists whose contemporary art was inspired by ancient textiles.

“I suddenly knew that I had a lot to learn from West African artists and cultures, and that somehow I must go there,” says Padberg. She began to plan a trip to Ghana soon after.

For three weeks Padberg traveled throughout Ghana and met with artists. She returned to Ghana for a month this past summer to conduct research for her own work and to teach a five-day workshop at the Foundation for Contemporary Art, in Accra, the capital city of Ghana. Funding for both her trips came from a HAS faculty development grant funded by Renée Samuels, sabbatical funds, and a grant from the University’s International Center, among other sources.

“The workshop was on professional practices. It’s a course that encompasses topics like networking, grant writing, legal issues, and other practical subjects,” says Padberg. “This is a class I teach every spring semester at the Hartford Art School, and now when I teach it here, I can bring my knowledge of art business in Africa to the course.”

Padberg’s international art career also has taken her to Asia and Europe, and from these travels she has developed an extensive repertoire of international and non-Western examples to use in her studio art teaching.

“After many years of bringing world art to the classroom, now I am finding ways to bring my students into parts of the world they have yet to experience,” says Padberg.”

“At the Hartford Art School, we have a long tradition of educating artists-citizens by teaching the whole person. My new study-abroad course, Sustainable Art Practices, will bring the students outside what they already know and introduce them to the developing world.” This course will be offered in 2012 at the Kokrobitey Institute in Ghana.