SIUE East St. Louis Center’s Project Success Students’ Hands Now a Work of Art

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SIUE East St. Louis Center’s Project Success Students’ Hands Now a Work of Art

Edna PattersonBecause hands can wield pain and destruction but can also bring comfort and love, celebrated fabric artist Edna Patterson-Petty led Southern Illinois University Edwardsville East St. Louis Center’s (ESLC) Project Success students in developing a work of art made out of decorated hands. 

The Pulitzer Arts Foundation of St. Louis commissioned SIUE alumna Patterson and her granddaughter, artist Eugenia Alexander, both of East St. Louis, to work in collaboration with the Project Success program in creating the piece. The idea was inspired by artist Ruth Asawa’s legacy of arts activism and education for children in San Francisco. The Pulitzer’s critically-acclaimed exhibition, “Ruth Asawa: Life’s Work,” was on display through February 2019 at its museum. 

Art ProjectThe official hanging of “Expression of Love,” an indoor sculpture that measures 2 feet wide by 3 feet long, is slated for some time in April in Building D of the East St. Louis Higher Education Campus in East St. Louis, according to Project Success Program Director Precious Grimes. 

“Art is a form of self-reflection, and self-reflection is a form of learning,” noted Grimes. “I was tremendously excited about this project, because I could be a part of planting a creative seed of learning in our youth.” 

Learning also involved the students developing a better awareness of themselves, according to Patterson-Petty. 

“The basic purpose of the commission was to use creativity to give the youth an interactive voice that will allow them to draw from their internal feelings of turmoil, chaos and low self-esteem to an outward expression of colorful art,” reported Patterson-Petty. “They were able to make choices of colors and designs, share ideas, make decisions, work individually and as a group.” 

“Edna and Eugenia’s approach as artists, and their dedication to working with young people made them a perfect team for this commission,” said Kristin Fleischman Brewer, the Pulitzer’s director of public programs. “Knowing that all of those involved will be able to see this sculpture, and know that they helped shape something is really beautiful.” 

More than 60 Project Success students worked from September-December 2018 in creating the sculpture. Patterson-Petty and Alexander instructed the students in the creation of hundreds of hands. 

“We traced each child’s hand print, as well as adult workers,” she continued. “Once the fabric for the hands was dyed, I cut out the hands and sewed the design. The children helped put the grommets in the hands, so that they could be hung onto the structure.” 

Patterson-Petty and Alexander fashioned the “hands” on hooks and attached them to the chains and rings of the sculpture. 

“Patience, listening and following instructions are especially important in the creative process,” said Patterson-Petty. “The students did well regarding this and were highly excited when they completed their designs.” 

“I think that there was a great sense of pride and self-esteem in creating the work,” she continued. “After seeing the finished project, they will always remember that they had a ‘hand’ in creating it.” 

The Project Success Program is a comprehensive after-school tutorial enrichment childcare program, which services children ages 5-14. The Illinois Department of Children and Family Services funds the program. It is designed to serve children who are in protective custody and are referred by the Department of Children and Family Services caseworkers. The program provides services to children living within the St. Clair County and Madison County areas. 

Photo courtesy Michael Thomas of the Pulitzer Arts Foundation:
Internationally known fabric artist Edna Patterson-Petty, SIUE alumna, lays out the artwork of hands that will be fashioned into an indoor sculpture.