Quilt project creates a tightly knit group of Cielo Elementary kids, parents


Story and Photo by Chelsea Martin

quiltAnything repetitive inevitably becomes dull to
the average person. That’s the main reason
out-of-the-box thinkers like Marni Anbar,
Colleen Atnip and Monique Zurga decided to put a
spin on this year’s art-masterpiece project at Kyrene
del Cielo Elementary School.
The three are this year’s PTO co-chairs of the
“We noticed that the program involved coloring,
and we thought to ourselves: ‘This is too scripted,’”
Anbar said.
“This is the first year we have decided to branch
out and change things. This is also the first year that
all grade levels are completing their art projects at
the same time, and so far we’ve found it to be quite
beneficial, budget-, supply- and volunteer-wise.”
The planning stages began a year prior, when
Anbar met Judith Slentz, a former Cielo teacher and
master quilter. The team collaborated on ways to
construct their vision for the art project.
“There was a lot of discussion and planning
ahead of time,” Anbar said. “We would take our
thoughts to Judith and see what she thought. Then
she had the expertise to help us realize what would
work and what wouldn’t. It was a great collaborative
The student project is based on the work
“African Canvas” by Namibian photo-journalist
Margaret Courtney-Clarke and West African mural
artist Sillia Camara.
The geometric designs used by Camara resemble
a quilting pattern. West African women traditionally
paint murals like these on the exterior mud walls of
their houses after the rainy season—impermanent
because they will last only until the following year’s
Cielo students utilized quilting materials of
cotton batting, muslin and fabric scraps to create
their own designs or pictures using textiles rather
than paint.
“When it comes to art masterpiece, the biggest
thing for me is that the children are given the ability
to experience and work with texture,” Atnip said.
“When the children saw their quilt pieces for the first
time, it was a huge deal to them because they had
never seen anything like it. It was magical.”
Like the African murals, the student work
will disappear over time. As each class graduates,
their quilt is taken down and returned to them.
Every seven years, the background quilts will
be re-introduced as the art masterpiece project
“The student work will recycle, which means
the artwork displayed will always have current
meaning,” Anbar said. “It was Judith’s idea to create
the disappearing act to mimic the African murals. I
think people will enjoy seeing the work and knowing
the connection because it’s always updated. No one

will stop and say,’ Why is this still up
Although the student project
lasted only 45 minutes, for Anbar,
Atnip, Zurga and the master quilter
Slentz, it wasn’t quite so simple.
A team of 25 volunteers assisted
in the 30 various classrooms during
the project.
Other volunteers in the
community participated by helping cut
fabric to the required measurements
and fabric for the designs.
Slentz created the six quilts
designed as the backdrop for each
grade level’s mini-quilts.
“Judith’s quilting expertise went
a long way with the project,” Anbar
said. “She spent many sleepless nights
making those quilts, and we couldn’t
be more grateful for her contributions.”
Slentz added:
“Marni was the glue that held us
all together and kept us going.”
Everyone agrees that the children
learned a great deal from the project,
Slentz says.
“I think they discovered an
invaluable amount about design
and form,” Slentz said. “If you look
at each individual mini-quilt, you
notice specific design principles: lines,
shapes, space, borders, frames, etc.
Each student was able to effectively
communicate their own ideas through
the various fabric pieces.”
As for those whose collaborative
energy led to work that broadened
the vision of children, they agreed
it couldn’t have happened without
the involvement of many collateral
“It was a nice representation of
a community coming together and
producing something that has value,”
Anbar said.
“It was a meaningful project for
the students and Cielo, and it wouldn’t
have been possible without the
unrelenting community support.”


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