The Nelson Mandela International Quilt

by William Rhodes


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I am a sculptor, mixed-media artist and art educator.  As cliché as it sounds, my passion is to share the joy of creativity and use my skills as an artist to foster the creative spirit. On most Mondays to Fridays, that goal is realized through my role as an art educator.  Through teaching, I am allowed to create, contribute to the growth of my community and empower young children.  For the past five years, I have been teaching art to students from kindergarten through high school via the Dare to Dream art enrichment program at the Bayview Opera House in San Francisco, CA.  Despite working in one of the most marginalized neighborhoods in San Francisco, I am privy to the some of the bright lights of the Bayview – its young people.

With the recent passing of Nelson Mandela, my students asked about Madiba and his life and legacy.  Realizing the opportunity to intertwine art and current events, I began to envision an art project which could engage children of color in a discussion about the values represented by this key historical figure while artistically incorporating family members who also reflect those values.  These were the first seeds of a commemorative Nelson Mandela quilt by students in the Bayview. 

Serendipitously, I was invited by Joyce Scott, USA Glasgow Fellow and world-renowned bead artist, to accompany a group of artists to participate in bead workshops in South Africa.  Joyce Scott will be sharing her beadwork techniques with and is hosted by Monkeybiz, a nonprofit whose mission is to help men and women supplement or completely support themselves and families as bead artists.  I immediately thought of the potential for international dialogue among children using art as the medium.  

My vision of the project would start with my students at Dr. Charles Drew Elementary School in the Bayview neighborhood of San Francisco.  They would each contribute a square patch of a large quilt. The patch would incorporate pictures, found objects and painting that reflects their families and is inspired by Nelson Mandela. Drawing from the plantation-era quilts of Gees Bend and Elizabeth Scott, the patches will come together to create a quilt that reflects the faces and lives of the Bayview in San Francisco.  The final quilt, along with photographs of the students, would be transported to South Africa.  Upon my trip to South Africa, I would then engage the South African children in the same project, creating a quilt that represents the South African take on Madiba and family. The South African quilt would then travel to San Francisco.  After the completion of both quilts, they will symbolically be sewn together and placed on display in an international traveling show – beginning in San Francisco and ending in South Africa.

The mission of this project is to create an international exchange between students.  Each quilt will be presented to the other country’s children to be discussed.  This project will facilitate a dialogue about and real connection between the students of both South Africa and United States.  

I have already spoken to and received support from the directors of youth arts programs in San Francisco and several cities across South Africa.  One program I am particularly excited to work with is the Lalela Project in Cape Town, SA. The Lalela Project provides art education to youth affected by extreme poverty, with the goal of sparking creative thinking and awakening the entrepreneurial spirit.

While the groups involved are excited about the children’s involvement, we’re working on the details to bring this project to fruition.  And this is why I’m writing to you.  I will need to raise approximately $10,000 to fund the project.  These monies will cover art supplies to create the quilts, transportation (as we’ll be traveling to several locations in South Africa), lodging and documentation of the project.  Once the quilts are completed, they will be shipped around the globe to be displayed in a traveling exhibition.

I am so excited about this project.  Thinking about the final quilt, comparing and contrasting the artwork of the two countries, generating questions about the commonalities between young people on different sides of the earth, and facilitating the exchange of letters or calls via Skype gives me goose bumps!  While I’ve traveled internationally for my own artwork, the opportunity to travel on behalf of young artists is thrilling.  Please consider supporting this exciting and meaningful project. If I am able to go, I plan to document the creative process so that every supporter and interested educator can bring this project to the children in their lives.  Join in on the adventure!

Thank you for your time and support. 


William Rhodes

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    • March 16, 2014 Derek Lassiter Community Member

      $2,375!!! Ok now you're just shown' out. ;)

      • March 18, 2014 William Rhodes Artist

        Thank you again for making this all possible. Please keep your fingers crossed.