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Piecing together Amish quilts: a collaborative effort in teaching.

Our students are exposed to a variety of Amish cultural experiences because they live near Amish communities in Pennsylvania. Some recognize the influence of Amish culture within their own lives through food, decorative arts, furniture, and quilts. But students' understanding of the cultural ideas used in Amish quilts is not often explored. Therefore, a challenge was given to two York County, Pennsylvania art educators, Trisha Coggins and Sara Little, to develop an art unit that would go beyond the traditional approaches of teaching about the Amish, while addressing our state standards for art education.

Each teacher developed units to correspond with specific areas of historical and cultural information about the Amish. Victoria Weaver provided each with historical and visual information about the Amish and their quilts.

Sara Little: Hanover High School

My Art Three students created two units that emphasized pattern, basic art skills, and technique. After Amish historic and cultural information was presented, students were asked to reflect upon and discuss Amish quilts through a series of questions: "What actually constitutes an Amish quilt?" "Can only Amish create an Amish quilt?" "Are all quilts produced by the Amish, considered Amish quilts?"

The first group decided to create linoleum block prints. After Viewing images of Amish quilts and noting the colors used, students printed blocks on watercolor paper using oil-based inks. Several prints were then arranged to produce the final block.

For Art One students, math and measuring skills were emphasized as well. The lesson began with the creation of paste papers. Students included colors that were indicative of the quilts they had been shown, while combining nontraditional prints with traditional Amish patterns. Their rectangular paste papers were cut into strips to produce squares, and then the squares cut diagonally to make triangles. Each student calculated the number of strips and squares and selected the paste paper colors and patterns for their quilt pattern arrangements.

Trisha Coggins: Southern York Middle School

My eighth-grade unit emphasized the Amish quilt principle of unity through the elements of art. This same concept was referenced through a class analysis of both historical and contemporary Amish quilts. Students were asked to define what art meant to them. They demonstrated their knowledge of the elements by creating individual block designs Students explored various ways in which art was connected and unified.

Students calculated how many different arrangements their individual blocks could form in three different ways: by working together, through the use of art elements, and by creating a whole project from many different parts. The class results included a waterfall, heart, and spiral forms.

I took on a more active role in planning and identifying the art elements with the life-skills support students. However, these students were very successful in expressing themselves visually; in identifying the unified principles of repetition with color, shapes, and pattern within the Amish quilts; and in Working together to create a unified design of their own. As a result of the unit, both groups of students visually and verbally defined and provided both concrete and abstract examples of unity.


Students understand the visual arts in relation to history and culture.


K-12 Teacher's Exchange: Quilt and Textile History,

Historical and Cultural Information

Amish was derived from a group led by Swiss farmer and bishop Jacob Amman, who broke away from the Mennonites in 1693 as part of the early Anabaptist or "rebaptizers" movement.

Today the Amish live in twenty-two states and Canada, but a large group live in Pennsylvania. The Amish embrace the Christian faith, believe in a literal translation of the Bible, and are committed to a "plain" lifestyle of humility, peace, and nonviolence. They do not own conveniences such as electricity, automobiles, or telephones. The colors of Amish quilts reflect their clothing--very simple and modest, always made from black or solid-colored fabrics. Patterned fabric is considered to be too worldly.

The two main cultural concepts that guide the Amish are gemee, the sense of community and spiritual unity, the sentiment that binds the Amish together; and ordnung, the concept that provides the rules for their social order. The most common behaviors--conformity, ritualism, and innovation--find parallels through the making of quilts.

Conformity to the expressed norms of the culture is measured through the choices of materials, technique, and composition. Ritualism can be found through the strict rigid adherence of ordnung in symbolism, dress, and social behavior. Innovation is seen as an expression of personal character.


Granick, E. The Amish Quill Intercourse, PA: Good Books, 1989.

Hostetler, J. Amish Society. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1993.

Victoria Weaver is adjunct professor of art, Shippensburg University, Shippensburg, Pennsylvania. Sara Little is an art teacher at Hanover High School, Hanover, Pennsylvania, and Trisha Coggins is an art teacher at Southern York Middle School, Glen Rock, Pennsylvania.
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Title Annotation:High School Studio Lesson
Author:Little, Sara
Publication:School Arts
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Aug 1, 2006
Previous Article:Lines, lines, and more lines.
Next Article:Many ways to make a line.

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