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Work highlighting student trip to Ghana on display Feb. 1-5 in ISU College of Design's Gallery 181

January 28, 2016


Iowa State students and faculty members at the entrance to Mole National Park, the largest wildlife sanctuary in Ghana.

AMES, Iowa — Images, artifacts and student work from a three-week study abroad trip to Ghana will be displayed Feb. 1-5 at the Iowa State University College of Design.

The "Ghana: Gaining Perspective" exhibition will be open from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily and by special arrangement in Gallery 181, first floor of the Design building on the west side of the Iowa State campus. A closing reception featuring a selection of Ghanaian foods will be from 5 to 8 p.m. Friday, Feb. 5. The exhibition and reception are free and open to the public.

An example of kente weaving in Adanwomase, Ghana.

Thirteen ISU students in art and visual culture Associate Professor Chris Martin's fall 2015 studio, "Artists, Designers and Sustainable Development," traveled to Ghana Dec. 19 – Jan. 9 to explore that country's unique cultures and history, learn about art and craft traditions particular to different tribal groups, and partner with Ghanaian artisans and a nongovernmental organization on service-learning projects.

The students, majoring in integrated studio arts, architecture, pre-biological/pre-medical illustration and performing arts, spent fall semester studying traditional craft processes, handicraft design/redesign and making marketable products from trash as part of sustainable development strategies. The trip to Ghana allowed them to meet local artisans, participate in craft workshops, and work with the NGO Our Talking Hands and students at the Volta School for the Deaf on handicraft product development.

The exhibition will include examples of traditional Ghanaian crafts—cast brass, glass beads, Adinkra (a cotton cloth stamped with visual symbols representing virtues), batik and woven kente cloth—that the students made themselves or purchased from the artisans with whom they worked, as well as photos from the trip. Each student was asked to choose one image that was most meaningful to him/her to hang as part of the show, Martin said.

Brianna Monroe, a sophomore pre-biological/pre-medical illustration major, learns how to form molten glass into a bead at Cedi Beads in Agomanya, Ghana.

For Brianna Monroe, whose only prior international experience was a family vacation in Mexico, "this trip meant new opportunities to grow, learn and immerse myself in a new culture. The artisans inspired me with their work ethic and talents that I would like to carry forward in my own art."

Monroe, a sophomore pre-biological/pre-medical illustration major from Ames, especially enjoyed observing kente weaving and trying her hand at the craft.

"I was amazed most by the process and the amount of skill it takes to make kente cloth," she said. "Even though [the simplest pattern] was fairly easy once you got the hang of it, I would really struggle actually setting up the loom on my own, and I wasn't nearly as fast as they are at making the kente. This is an art that would take years to learn."

Integrated studio arts senior Aaron Nostwich displays a batik design he made during a workshop in Ho, Ghana.
The batik cloth Nostwich made featuring his surname in English and sign language letters.

Integrated studio arts senior Aaron Nostwich, Ames, found the batik workshop most fulfilling.

"I was able to create a sheet that had my family name on it, along with the sign language letters for it. It filled me with pride to see my family name in Ghana, a place no one from my family had ever been before; this way, all of us were able to be there."

Martin and his wife, Tammi, program assistant for the ISU Center for Sustainable Rural Livelihoods, co-led the trip to Ghana. They served as US Peace Corps volunteers for two years in Ghana in 2008-2010 and returned to Iowa State seeking to provide students with opportunities to experience the Ghanaian culture, collaborate with its people and gain an enhanced world-view and concept of service.

"One of the most important aspects of the trip was working with Our Talking Hands and the Volta School for the Deaf," Chris Martin said. "This was an opportunity for the students to work with the artisans (who are deaf) and start thinking in a different way about what they themselves do as artists, designers and performers."

For example, as a maker of custom furniture, Martin has access to a table saw, a joiner, a planer, and other specialized equipment. In Ghana, "they have to figure out how to do what I do without the tools I have, or the range of materials I have. It was valuable for students to begin to learn how to adapt and find creative ways to use what's available and to think about what is sustainable."

Read more about the students' experiences in Ghana on their blog at Those unable to visit the exhibition during regular hours may contact Martin, (515) 294-1639,, to arrange a separate viewing.

Chris Martin, Art and Visual Culture, (515) 294-1639,
Brianna Monroe, Pre-BPMI student,
Aaron Nostwich, Integrated Studio Arts student,
Heather Sauer, Design Communications, (515) 294-9289,