Friday, March 4, 2016

We're All Ears :: March Inspiration

Celling of Hazrate-Masomeh’s mosque in Qom, Iran, all images courtesy of Mehrdad Rasoulifard (@m1rasoulifard)
It might surprise you to know that when I was teaching 7th grade at St. Peter Middle School a quarter century (!) ago, I not only had to teach English and Literature, but I also had to do some instruction in religion as well. I did the usual things one would expect in those classes, but one of my favorite units to teach was on World Religions.

Celling of Hazrate-Masomeh’s mosque in Qom, Iran
This unit was developed more as a history and culture unit, giving just a glimpse into the world's major religions, not as a discourse in conversion (it is a Catholic school after all!). I think that it is very important to at least have an understanding of different viewpoints and faiths. Misunderstanding is at the root of fear. Knowing that these students might one day meet someone of another faith, I hoped it would foster understanding and respect, as it had for me when I was in my Catholic high school in a similar class. (If you are interested in knowing more and broadening your understanding, please consider checking out this free online course on World Religions currently offered by Harvard professors. I am definitely checking this out.) 

And of course, each mini-unit culminated in an art project (even then, I was heavily into art and didn't realize it!)

Celling of Hazrate-Masomeh’s mosque in Qom, Iran
As part of the unit on Islam, we studied the architecture and created our own arabesque art. This was my favorite project. 

Sheikh Lotfollah mosque in Esfahan, Iran, about 400 years old
The depiction of animals or human forms is generally discouraged in Islamic art, and so arabesque art focuses on intricate geometric patterns. Not just surface decoration, this same idea applies to the shape of the architecture as well. 

Celling of Sheikh-Lotfollah’s mosque in Esfahan, Iran
Architecture is seen as the most supreme of art. Circles, squares, triangles - all symbolic geometry - are the perfect melding of art and science and math and shows unity and structure as well as beauty.

Celling of Jameh’s mosque in Esfahan, Iran, 900 years old
For our project, we would start with our circles of paper and find the center then create quadrants and work on repetitive geometric patterns. Popular colors for these tiled edifices include gold, white and turquoise often on a dark blue background, but we would make ours brightly colored with markers and colored pencils. The natural world, all art forms as well as mathematics and science are seen to be reflections of God as they have existed in all times. It is said that those artists that can create the most tightly woven tessellation patterns are closest to God. 
Celling of Shahe-Cheragh’s mosque in Shiraz, Iran
I can tell you there is a sort of meditative experience that happens when a room-full of 13 year olds are completely absorbed in doing this exercise of making arabesque art. I found it interesting to note that mistakes can be intentionally introduced into the complex patterns as a way to show humility to God. By the end of the year, after teaching all 81 students, I would end up with a wall of these mandala-like circles put together in sort of a paper quilt. It really was beautiful, inspiring and something they really remembered!

Sheikh Lotfollah mosque in Esfahan,Iran, about 400 years old
As soon as I spotted these pictures on Colossal (and then hopped over to DesignBloom and his Instagram site), I literally gasped. Instagram photographer Mehrdad Rasoulifard is documenting the ancient Persian and Iranian architecture, treating his followers to a visual geometric feast and a virtual history lesson. I love great architecture in all its forms, and to know that these soaring spaces were created in more ancient times, without the aid of modern tools or materials really blows my mind. They have really stood the test of time.

Celling of Hazrate-Masomeh’s mosque in Qom, Iran
I see a lot of ideas for not just earrings but all jewelry and art in these stunning forms and patterns and color palettes. They are classic and detailed with an energy that belies the elegance. I do hope that these images will inspire you to make something special for our We're All Ears reveal on March 18th! See you then!


  1. Oh my, I LOVE all of these beautiful pieces of inspiration. Thank you so much Erin!!!

  2. Wow Erin! Great post! I am so impressed you encouraged your students to not only practice this type of art form but also teaching tolerance and understanding of other faiths. Takes a huge heart and strong person to do so. I applaud you for that! So much hate and misunderstanding going on in the world today. We need more understanding and more teaching young people understanding for our future.

    The artwork is amazing. I am really drawn in by the color schemes in the different photos. I am not sure I'll be able to create anything with geo shapes... but I do love the colors and am really inspired by the artwork and your own enthusiasm for it!

    Thank you so much for sharing and inspiring. :-)

    1. Thanks for your kind comments, Miss Cindy! I can say that not everyone agreed with my teaching of these alternate faiths to our Catholic school students, but like I said, I was taught a similar class in my Catholis h.s. and used a lot of material from one of my favorite priests at that time who did a wonderful job of this. I also used one of my favorite tiny books called One that revealed how similar all the sacred texts of the world's religions were that was also inspired by an encyclical by Pope John Paul II. I used that tiny little book (wonder where that is now...?) when parents might object. It was really a gloss over (the course was one quarter long) but I wanted to give them knowledge so they were not limited by their misunderstanding or fear to bridge the gap to tolerance. I am still passionate about that today. My greatest pleasure in setting up these creative challenges is to offer a an inspiration that has many aspects so that you can choose what works for you! The colors are dynamic and exciting. Not sure where I will go with this, but I am intrigued to find out! Enjoy the day. Erin

  3. Erin, first of all, thank you for sharing your story of that teaching time. I loved reading about it. The structures depicted in the photos are truly inspiring. I am always in awe of buildings that are hundreds of years old, and as you said, built without modern tools. The time, effort, energy and love that went into their creation is difficult to imagine. Thanks for the great post.