For 11 years, the Museum of Fine Arts (MFA) has run the Artist Project, a program where local students visit the museum throughout the year to create their own masterpieces. Now through October, the children’s work is on display in an exhibit called “Second Hands.”
Boston-based artist Maria Molteni, who has a background in painting and printmaking, led the program this year and worked with 141 kids from 10 local after-school organizations. To begin, she brought in a selection of second-hand garments from the students’ respective neighborhoods and asked them to make a drawing based on the clothing and imagine a character who might have worn it.
Next, she had the students check the tag of the garment to see where it was made. The kids then sketched artifacts from those countries of origin in the MFA’s collection and created their own original design inspired by their previous drawings. Molteni helped the students create a silkscreen of the artwork, which they used to print the design onto 1.5 yards of cotton fabric.
“I took one square of this fabric to incorporate into the large quilt and gave the rest back to them to make into something cool to wear to the opening,” Molteni said in an email. “The thrift store garments were assembled into smaller ‘Log Cabin’ squares which were displayed as a modular quilt that can be tied together to connect all of the neighborhoods. Both quilts create geospatial data maps that show the places that we studied and how much fabric came out of which location.”
Molteni said she wanted to find a way to connect the museum to each neighborhood in Boston, which is why she started with the thrift store garments. She said many of the students had knowledge of quilting and crafts already from their families and had ancestors in the countries of origin studied in the MFA.
“I think the great thing about quilting is that metaphors around diversity are always present — inherent in the nature of the patchwork and combining all of these small separate shapes into a larger image,” Molteni said. “It’s a great visualization of the way community works. I think the two quilts speak to community as it can exist in your neighborhood, your city, or the globe.”
Molteni made a point to discuss with the students the idea of an artifact originally being made by a culture for a particular purpose, before it became viewed as precious art inside a museum. She said the students came away from the project understanding art is about much more than just drawing a realistic portrait.
“This was a rigorous project, conceptually, but they were right there with me the whole time and very interested,” Molteni said. “They loved being in the museum — many were attending for their first time — and they brought so many different workstyles to the table. The diversity of imagery found in the quilt is a testament to this, which is so important when you’re working with children at the self-conscious age.”