Indigo master Linda LaBalle visits Vicenza schools
April 4, 2013
When Vicenza Middle School art teacher Melanie Mann was doing some Internet research last summer she came across information about an artist living in North Carolina who travels to schools, teaching children about dyeing techniques.
After raising funds from three community organizations to bring her to Vicenza as a guest, Mann was pleased to welcome indigo artist Linda LaBalle to Italy March 25 to teach the VMS students about her studies.
"We are so delighted to have Ms. LaBalle here, and how the community came together to support this fun yet educational lesson," Mann said.
LaBalle kicked off her week of education in school assembly, speaking about her Silk Road travels. She ran two different sessions per day the rest of the week with all sixth-graders and with seventh- and eighth-grade art students, approximately 180 children in total.
The sixth-grade students studied the dyeing techniques with a cloth, rubber bands and a plastic pipe. This is just one out of the five techniques. Other techniques include marbles, clothes pins or chop sticks, which is a technique she invented, LaBalle said.
The students had to learn vocabulary words before LaBalle's arrival that helped them understand the lesson. Oxidation, pH scale, acid, alkaline and body temperature are all important words to help them understand the process when working with indigo.
According to LaBalle, indigo can be found in Africa as well as Mexico, Japan and India, which is where the ink came from for this particular lesson. Indigo has been very important for years in trading. Historically it is believed that the pirate Bluebeard used indigo to dye his beard. Indigo has also been used as face paint, similar to one sees in the movie "Braveheart."
During the class LaBalle described an indigo ceremony where a prayer is given.
"Let's hope for a good blue color and maybe some good weather," LaBalle said with a laugh. She said it is traditional that clothes are dyed once a year to keep the color strong.
The students then dipped their cloth in the indigo pots that are kept hot at 108 degrees Fahrenheit. Chemistry is very important during this process and oxygen does play a role, which is why it was important for the children to learn about it before the process.
Funds to assist with the lesson came from the Vicenza Community Club, the PTSA and the Arts and Crafts Center.
"I think it is a fantastic opportunity for our students and we are so lucky to incorporate so many lessons for our students," said Julio Gonzalez, VMS principal.
In addition to working with the middle school students, LaBalle taught two classes at the Arts and Crafts Center using the Japanese shibori techniques with silk scarves.