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AAEA: Transform. Reflect. Shine!

A group of 14 Alabama Art educators at the AAEA conference in Dothan, Alabama

In the month of October, the Alabama Art Education Association (AAEA) celebrated turning 100 years old.

AAEA is dedicated to advocating for the highest quality visual arts education and providing for the advancement of knowledge through service, leadership and research, and the Wiregrass Museum of Art got to host the 100-year celebration conference!

What this means is that over 150 art educators from across the state of Alabama came HERE, to Dothan, Alabama, to explore the art on display at WMA, and participate in classes and lessons, learning all sorts of new skills, from how to use gelli plates for several different types of printing, to weaving plastic bags, or even how to save for after retirement.

I thought I would share with you some of the highlights from my experience with the 3-day conference.

It began with an Art After Hours event here at the museum. Whenever a new exhibition begins at the museum, on the third Thursday of the month, we host an evening event where members have free entry and not yet member only pay $5—and you get to explore the brand new art before it’s available to the general public, listen to music in the galleries, partake of refreshments if you’re so inclined, and try out an art activity.

Being one of WMA’s art educators, I got to teach people how to do the art activity. This month’s was gelli plate printing with markers. So many of the art educators stopped at the table to give it a try, because they’ve had a box of gelli plates, but no idea what to do with them.

Gelli Plates

For this activity, we just needed a gelli plate, colored markers, paper, and wet wipes.  You draw directly on the gelli plate, then place the paper on top and rub, making a print transfer.  There were so many things I got to experiment with and learn!

Like drawing everything at once, layering multiple prints on top of each other, and how, if you want to add writing, you must write your letters backwards to get them to properly transfer.

Even if you’re not trying for a finished piece of art, there’s a joy in discovering how the medium works, finding new ways to use it, and discovering its limitations.

A group of 6 educators enjoy learning to experiment with gelli plates with markers.

A group of 6 educators enjoy experimenting with gelli plates with markers.


A green one eyed alien done in marker with gelli plate

A green one eyed alien done in marker with gelli plate

The three coolest classes that I got to take over the weekend were an introduction to 3d printing and laser cutting with Christy Barlow, integrating art with Shelly Bailey, and Alabama outsider art with Tammie Clark.

3d Printing and Laser Cutting

Did you know that a lot of colleges and libraries have a 3d printer you can use for a fee? And that online has a wealth of resources for where you can get 3d files that are either already made, or can be easily manipulated for what you want to do?

The focus is on the image on the screen behind the lithopane

Pay attention to the image on the main screen….

The same image that was on the screen has been duplicated in the lithopane.

Because they transfered it to the lithopane!

Here are 3 of the resources that were shared with me:

Thingiverse where you can enter what you’re looking for into the search bar and usually find a variety of options that people have made. It has both 3d and laser cut files in it.

Lithopane Creator A lithopane is an image of various thickness that when held in front of a light, is like looking at a photograph. You can design your own in all sorts of shapes. And they can even be used as stamps.

Tinkercad This is a free web app for learning how to do 3d modeling, electronics, and coding. It’s made for children, so it’s presented in easy to learn and understand ways!

Integrating Art

Art integration is the idea that subjects (Math, Science, Reading, Art, etc.) don’t happen in a vacuum, and they don’t have to be taught like they do. In fact, studies have shown that students learn better and retain more when integration happens!

A low stake, get to know each other activity we started the class with had us putting a piece of paper on top of our heads—and then using a marker to draw a cat with our dominant hand. Putting the image face down on the desk without looking at it or showing it to anyone. And then doing the same with our nondominant hand. Afterwards, we shared them with the person across from us, who gave a kind critique—and because this is a simple exercise where the expected outcome is going to be awful—it’s fun, and funny, and a great chance to bond with fellow classmates.

She also recommended some really great books to check out for further activities: Integrating the Visual Arts Across the Curriculum by Julia Marshall, Integrating the Arts Across Content Areas by Lisa Donovan, and Art Centered Learning Across the Curriculum, also by Julia Marshall.

Alabama Outsider Art

And my third favorite class was about Alabama Outsider Art and artists. An outsider artist doesn’t have any formal training, but feels called to create, and is usually very prolific, with a style that when you see it, immediately makes you think of that artist.

We got to try our hands at making hinged art in the style of Lois Wilson.

This one is mine:

And then we got to draw our own obsessive autobiography, in the style of Howard Finster. This is one from the other teachers, Beth, who was present:

There was so much laughter and camaraderie in the class—that I can fully imagine that school age students would equally enjoy these activities.

And last, but not least, in honor of their 100th anniversary falling in 2023, they had a 20s themed celebration during the award’s banquest!

WMA art educator Janin Wise, dressed up for the 1920s themed banquet in a black and silver flapper dress in front of a silver and gold background

WMA art educator Janin Wise, dressed up for the 1920s themed banquet

WMA educator Alexandria Turner and the rest of the 2023 AAEA conference organizers, some dressed for the 1920s themes, others in AAEA t shirts, and some just dressed nicely for the award's banquet, in front of a silver and gold backdrop.

WMA educator Alexandria Turner and the rest of the 2023 AAEA conference organizers.

And I would be remiss not to mention the mural that was created during the conference that is now on permanent display at the Westgate Recreation Center. Designed and led by the muralist Sarah Painter:

The AAEA conference was very educational, a whole lot of fun, and if you would like to see some of the incredible art that was made by Alabama educators, stop by the Coleman Gallery in the lower level at the Wiregrass Museum of Art.

It will be on display through December 30th!