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Destination: Threads of Experience gallery at N.C. Museum of Art's African Art exhibit

Posted August 17

The interactive gallery offers opportunities for visitors to learn more and experiment with textiles.
Courtesy: N.C. Museum of Art

The expanded African Art gallery at the N.C. Museum of Art offers more than just a chance to see some amazing artwork that spans 16 centuries. Inside the gallery, an interactive exhibit lets museum visitors of all ages make their own art too.

The expanded gallery opened in the museum's East Building in June. It's three times the size of the previous exhibit, which made its home in the museum's West Building. The permanent exhibit features works from the museum's collection and others that are on loan.

Those pieces include a massive 30-by-18-foot chalk drawing, which was created on site this spring by artist Victor Ekpuk, and will be washed away in a year. For kids, it's a fun piece to look at as they consider their own sidewalk chalk drawings at home.

You can't touch Ekpuk's drawing, but, visitors can get involved in the gallery's Threads of Experience exhibit. Here, the three-year rotating exhibit will focus on various textiles created in Africa. This year, the focus is on Kuba cloth, which comes from the Republic of the Congo. The exhibit will switch out in a year to feature another African textile. A third will be featured in the final year.

Kuba cloth is woven by men using raffia and later decorated by women in the community, who embroider various patterns and shapes on the pieces. The cloth is considered a status symbol, often used during funerals or worn as skirts.

Courtney Klemens, the museum's coordinator of family programs, said the exhibit is a way for museum visitors to do more than walk past or briefly take in a piece of art. She's seen families spend hours in the Threads of Experience, learning and enjoying taking part in the activities together.

In Africa, "art is lived in a really different way. A lot of art is functional," she said. "This is an active space for learning and discovering."

Threads of Experience offers four stations with hands-on activities.

The Loom

On a giant loom that stretches nearly from floor to ceiling - it stands 25-feet tall and 15-feet wide - visitors can use various kinds of fabric to make different patterns together. Klemens said the giant loom is so popular that it's completely full at the end of each day. Because of North Carolina's own textile history, Klemens included roving, an untreated wool from the state, among the fabrics used on the loom.

Embroidery Stations

On small plastic panels, visitors can create their own shapes or designs with a needle and yarn. You're welcome to take home your creation or pin it up on a board for others to see.

Pattern Play

With large magnets featuring geometric shapes taken from pieces in the African Art gallery, visitors can make their own patterns on magnetic boards. This was really popular with a group of young kids who visited while I was there.

Book Nook

The exhibit features a variety of picture books that tell African stories and tales, along with some comfy chairs to curl up in.

As part of the opening of the new, expanded gallery, the art museum is hosting special events this month and going forward. They include programs with Wake County Public Libraries, which continue through next week. This month's weekend family-friendly tours, which are 10:30 a.m., Saturday, Aug. 19, and Sunday, Aug, 20, take place in the African Art gallery. And, at noon, Sunday, Aug. 20, the museum will host pop-up art. Visitors can spray, drip and splatter to explore the colors and textures of painted cloth. (Be dressed to get messy!).

All of these activities - museum admission, the Threads of Experience and the special events - are free. The museum's calendar has more information about events at the museum. The N.C. Museum of Art is at 2110 Blue Ridge Rd., Raleigh.

Go Ask Mom features places to take kids every Friday. For more, check our posts on parks and playgrounds and Triangle family destinations.


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