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Willa Cather Foundation - Red Cloud Nebraska (NE)

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Learning Resources for Wandering Spirit

Learning Resources for Wandering Spirit

Wandering Spirit: African Wax Prints is a tribute to African Wax Prints, the common name for a textile that had its origins in Indonesia, was imitated by Dutch textile manufacturers, and ended up marketed to an African and global audience. As early as 1846, European cotton printers flooded the West and Central African markets with wax prints. Today, they are seen in markets in Accra, Monrovia, and Lagos, and catwalked in international fashion shows in Paris and galleries from New York to London.

Although not originally African, these textiles have been adopted in African culture and society, and through a process of assimilation, appropriation, and mutual influence, the African sensibility has made an indelible mark on the kind of designs the Dutch, British, and Chinese producers of these textiles design and manufacture.

This exhibition traces the pathway of the African Print over three continents, from Asia through Europe to Africa, and explores the meanings behind some of the names of individual fabrics. This three-continent journey is a history paved along colonial trade routes and globalization in the post-colonial era.

Gifty Afua Benson, the curator and authorial voice for this exhibition, offers a native Ghanian perspective relative to the naming and meaning behind these beautiful prints that are so rich with African identity.

A program of ExhibitsUSA, a national division of Mid-America Arts Alliance with Nebraska Arts Council and the National Endowment for the Arts.

Support was also provided by Humanities Nebraska and the National Endowment for the Humanities as part of the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act.
Opera House programming is made possible through the support of the Nebraska Arts Council and the Nebraska Cultural Endowment.

Anansi the Spider: A Tale from the Ashanti

Anansi the Spider: A Tale from the Ashanti
Anansi the Spider: A Tale from the Ashanti

About the Anansi the Spider Reading

Red Cloud Tourism and Commerce Director Jarrod McCartney is a guest reader for Anansi the Spider: A Tale from the Ashanti, by Gerald McDermott. (Click on the baner image above to play.) In conjunction with the exhibit Wandering Spirit, the National Willa Cather Center offers educational resources and activities for learners of all ages. This reading of Anansi, a trickster figure that is beloved around the world, is a great way to introduce younger children to the cultures of Africa through folklore. We especially love the textured, vibrant artwork of the book, which draws from the history of the wax print. For more suggested readings and activities, please visit our Wandering Spirit Resources page. You can also purchase your own copy of the book in our online shop.


Caldecott Medalist Gerald McDermott's illustrated books and animated films have brought him international recognition. He is highly regarded for his culturally diverse works inspired by traditional African and Japanese folktales, hero tales of the Pueblos, and the archetypal mythology of Egypt, Greece, and Rome. It was his fascination with the imagery of African folklore that led him to the story of Anansi the Spider. McDermott was born in Detroit, Michigan, and later attended Pratt Institute in Brooklyn. Once in New York, he began to produce and direct a series of animated films on mythology in consultation with renowned mythologist Joseph Campbell. These films became the basis for McDermott's first picture books. Among his many honors and awards are the Caldecott Medal for Arrow to the Sun, a Pueblo myth, and Caldecott honors for Anansi the Spider: A Tale from Ashanti.

Books for Younger Readers

Books for Younger Readers
Books for Younger Readers

Bryan, Ashley. The Night Has Ears: African Proverbs. New York: Atheneum Books, 1999.

Garner, Lynne. Anansi the Trickster Spider. Mad Moment Media, Ltd., 2014.

Green, Yuko. Traditional African Costumes Paper Dolls. New York: Dover Publications, 2009.

Woodson, Carter Godwin. African Myths and Folk Tales. Mineola: Dover Publications, 2009.

Books for Older Readers

Books for Older Readers
Books for Older Readers

Elliot, Inger McCabe. Batik: Fabled Cloth of Java. New York: Clarkson N. Potter, 1984.

Hemmings, Jessica. Cultural Threads: Transnational Textiles Today. London: Bloomsbury Academic, 2015.

Leslau, Charlotte and Wolf Leslau. African Proverbs. White Plains: Peter Pauper Press, 1985.

Madison, D. Soyini and Karen Tranberg, eds. African Dress: Fashion, Agency, and Performance. New York: Bloomsbury, 2013.

Picton, John. The Art of African Textiles: Technology, Tradition and Lurex. London: Barbican Art Gallery, 1995.

Relph, Magie and Robert Irwin. African Wax Print: A Textile Journey. New Richmond: Words and Pixels, 2010.

Spring, Chris. African Textiles Today. Washington, D.C.: Smithsonian Books, 2012.

About the Fabrics

About the Fabrics
About the Fabrics

How are the fabrics named? Explore even MORE VLISCO fabrics by clicking here!

Want more history? Read this great article!

Looking for more types of African textiles? Check out this interactive site!

About the Printing Process

About the Printing Process
About the Printing Process

To see the Vlisco printing process, WATCH HERE.

For over 170 years, Vlisco has created more than 350,000 original textile designs. Many of these designs have become cultural treasures, bestowed with special names and meanings by the merchants of Central and West Africa. New designs are produced each year alongside traditional classics to hearten the new generation of Vlisco enthusiasts.

Vlisco’s highly expressive and creative customers transform the fabrics into fashionable looks, which are one of a kind. Inspired by Africa, made with a technique derived from Indonesian Batik, designed in the Netherlands, Vlisco’s heritage and design signature is a multicultural melting pot of beauty and industrial craftsmanship.

Lesson Plan: Batik Making Made Easy

Lesson Plan: Batik Making Made Easy
Lesson Plan: Batik Making Made Easy

Lesson Plan: Batik Making Made Easy

(provided by batik artist Tunde Odunlade)

Grade Levels 5–12


This activity introduces students to the process of batik using simple dyes, melted hot wax, and paper to emulate batik on fabric.

What is Batik?

A batik is a piece of cloth or any fiber material that is waxed and dyed. To make a batik, one uses a methodology of wax resistance against dyes. There are different kinds of wax to use in making a batik: bee’s, paraffin, candle, encaustic, and cassava wax are among several options. An artist choses wax based on the desired effect. For a batik on paper, it is preferable to use bee’s wax (thickest wax), paraffin (medium thickness), or a candle wax (thick). The less thick the hot wax, the more easily it cracks when it is when cool, and therefore easily removable. The more the wax cracks, the more liquid color dyes penetrate the wax going into the surface of the paper or fabric. This effect of wax cracking when cool creates the various dyed lines and “crackled” look of a finished batik. Traditionally, the choice of dyes differs from region and country. Any local dyes purchased from an artist’s supply store will work. Simply follow the directions on the dye package for instruction.

SAFETY NOTE: Wax melts at 350 degrees and then will need to be reduced to a heat of a constant 250 degrees until ready to apply the wax on material. Always use caution when using melted wax. Hot wax can create a third-degree burn if spilled on one’s skin, so always be mindful of wax spillage or wax dropping on any part of the body. Melted wax always needs to be monitored as it can catch on fire and smoke if too hot.


Students will understand the process of batik. Students will experiment with and understand the basic techniques of batik. Students will understand elements of design to make a pattern. Students will consider color harmony by choosing a palette. Students will experiment with free-hand drawing to make a design.

Materials Needed

  • Foam brushes
  • Paint brushes, a tjanting (or a self-made pencil for applying/drawing on the wax)
  • Bee’s wax, paraffin, or candle wax to melt
  • “Rit” fabric dyes (one to three colors)
  • Plastic containers for storing separate dye colors
  • A hot plate or electric skillet upon which to place an aluminum pie tin container full of wax
  • Paper (watercolor paper, printmaking paper, or handmade paper that is absorbent)
  • Sketch paper
  • Pencils
  • Scissors
  • Newspapers
  • Old clothes
  • Iron

Lesson Time

One class period to introduce batik, history, and process, and to start the project

One, two, or three class periods (as desired) to work on the project and experiment with multiple colors of dye

Lesson Procedures

Step one

Place the solid wax in an aluminum container on a hot plate or electric skillet to melt the wax. Set the heat to 350 degrees until the wax melts down completely, then lower to 250 degrees.

Step two

Using inspiration from the exhibition and various fabric patterns, think of a simple design and sketch ideas on a piece of paper using pencil. Consider repeating one design on the sheet of sketch paper to create a pattern. If desired, lightly sketch this design in pencil onto a sheet of watercolor, printmaking, or handmade paper.

Step three

After a demonstration of how to use a paintbrush, foam brush, pencil, or tjanting as a wax applicator, dip the tjanting, foam, or paintbrush in the heated wax for two–three minutes.

Step four

Place the sheet of absorbent paper (watercolor, printmaking, or handmade) flat on the table in front of you, apply the wax to the desired areas (either on your pencil drawn image or form an image by waxing directly onto the paper “free-style”). Please note, the image works in reverse— the areas waxed will retain the color of the material. Any unwaxed areas will absorb the applied colored dye(s).

Step five

Having waxed all desired areas, mix the “Rit” dyes per the packaging instructions and place each color in a separate plastic container. Apply the first dye colors as desired to the paper using paintbrushes or foam brushes. It is advisable to work from the lightest colors to the darkest colors. Don’t let the paper soak too much liquid dye to prevent the paper from falling apart.

Step six

Allow the liquid dye to dry completely on the paper, and if so desired, continue waxing again to add more colors. Remember that the areas waxed are those that retain colors. Apply wax and dye several times, allowing dye to dry on paper to get desired colors. Apply the final color after having waxed and dyed as many times as desired. The final color should be darker than all the applied, waxed, and dyed colors. Let dye dry.

Step seven

Place sheets of newspaper on the table and place your dried, waxed, and dyed paper on it. Place another piece of newspaper on top of it. Plug in the iron and set it to the hottest setting. When hot, move the iron back and forth slowly on the newspaper and apply force. The newspaper will absorb the melted wax. Replace the newspaper if soaked with wax. Repeat moving the hot iron over the wax, drawing until all the wax is removed.