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Life in a Tapestry: Unveiling the 2021 Alley Art Project Design + Student Exhibition

The Rockwell Museum is thrilled to unveil the 2021 Alley Art Project design of a new mural coming to Corning’s Northside! The project has been approved for funding by the National Endowment for the Arts, as well as continued regional support from The Triangle Fund.

In collaboration with the High School Learning Center (HSLC) of the Corning-Painted Post Area School District, students worked with Teaching Mural Artist Betsy Z. Casañas, HSLC Coordinator Dave Quackenbush, and Rockwell Educator Amy Ruza to design the latest Alley Art Project mural inspired by artwork in the Museum’s collection.

Life in a Tapestry will be painted in downtown Corning in August 2021. This virtual exhibition celebrates the 13th Alley Art Project featuring students’ individual mandala paintings that are woven into the design. The original student artwork is on view in The Rockwell’s Student Gallery through September 6, 2021.

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This year’s mural design is inspired by the Diné (Navajo) textiles in The Rockwell’s collection and connects to the 2021 annual theme, Environments Examined. The design illustrates the weaving process, symbolic of how living traditions, ideas and goals are ongoing and reflective of society and the environments in which we live. The mural uses an abstraction of the weaving process to depict an intricate tapestry woven from a mess of threads. A loom is featured to represent the process of our lives, revealing aspects that are not always visible. This shares a positive message about future hopes and dreams to unite the living web of connectivity between people in our community through a unique perspective.

The Rockwell was able to facilitate mural design classes with students and Betsy Z. Casañas during the COVID-19 pandemic through a mix of socially distanced in-person sessions and video classes. Thinking about the metaphor of “life as a tapestry,” students were asked to consider their past, present and future, and designed mandalas that focus on the importance of process, growth and transformation. They used symbols to represent various aspects of their lives that have impacted or played a part in who they are today. Students included symbols for attainable short-term goals, as well as long-term goals, emphasizing the importance of work and process to bring them closer to making their dreams a reality.

HSLC students, under the direction of Betsy Z. Casañas and Rockwell Education staff, will begin painting the mural mid-August 2021 on the South façade of Pudgie’s Pizza (61 Bridge Street). Visitors are welcome to stop by the mural site to see the progress and painting in action.

Diné (Navajo) Textiles as Inspiration

The 13th Alley Art Project mural design is inspired by the Diné (Navajo) textiles in The Rockwell’s collection. Working partially via video during the COVID-19 pandemic, the mural design class structure provided the opportunity to draw inspiration from collection objects not currently on view in the Museum, with access to digital images of the large woven Diné rugs that are safely stored at the Museum’s offsite facility.

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The Navajo Nation is in the Southwestern United States. Regional styles differ in their color use, border designs and geometric patterns that often interpret the geographical landscapes and beauty found in nature. Diné artists incorporate Hózhó, a concept that loosely translates to “living in beauty.” Hózhó is found in all Diné art. Contemporary artists continue to create rugs today using traditional weaving techniques with a vertical loom. Weavings are created from the bottom up using hand-spun wool both naturally and commercially dyed.

The 2021 Alley Art Project design incorporates geometric patterns and nature designs in a series of mandalas that symbolically illustrate the High School Learning Center (HSLC) students’ individual stories and dreams. When woven together, they are reflective of our unique region and community in upstate New York. The completed mural will incorporate the original student-painted mandalas that will be visible to public audiences as they walk down the alleyway for an immersive downtown experience. 

About Betsy Z. Casañas

woman's portrait with headscarf in front of colorful mural

Betsy Casañas, Guest Teaching Artist

Betsy Z. Casañas is a Latina visual and public artist, educator, community activist and organizer with 26 years of teaching experience in the arts, and has created over 50 murals worldwide. She is a 20-year participant in the Philadelphia Mural Arts program, director of A Seed on Diamond Gallery and founder of Semilla Arts, a grassroots initiative that uses art as a catalyst for social change and artistic collaboration as a means of inspiring individuals and strengthening communities. Casañas focuses her work on empowering communities, transforming public spaces, awakening local talent and highlighting people’s stories through the creation of collaborative arts projects.

“I love walking students through the process of creating individual pieces that are both personal and beautiful. Once the students understood the idea of how to use symbolism to tell their story, it was really beautiful to see how open they were in exploring this genre and how excited they were about the mandalas they designed. They were intentional and thoughtful throughout the entire process. It’s also empowering, I think, for the students once they understand they can explore themes of love, trauma, family, hopes and dreams, and don’t have to be explicit when talking about their individual designs. They can choose to share as much or as little as they feel comfortable, and that is okay. I am so excited about how intricate, detailed and vibrant the project will be. This has been a lot of fun, and the students made it easy to create a beautiful mural in collaboration with their work.” —Betsy Z. Casañas

Share Your Thread

Street art is a form of storytelling. Voice your message of hope and add your thread to the collective story! 

Life in a Tapestry represents the strands of individual threads that when woven together are stronger, creating a layered narrative of all the people in our community. Each thread can be thought of as a storyline with a message for hope and unity for the future.

Use this message board to write your own message or respond to others. Use these prompts to get started!

  • What changes would you like to see in your community?
  • What do you value in your environment?
  • Who are the heroes in your community that activate ideas for the future?
  • What are your dreams?

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Explore More

The 2021 Alley Art Project is supported in part by the National Endowment for the Arts and The Triangle Fund.

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