Traveling the world through art: La Crosse students create Islamic Tiles

LA CROSSE (WKBT) — Students at La Crosse’s Longfellow Middle School are traveling 7,000 miles to the Middle East – using just a paintbrush.

Last year, Longfellow Middle School Art teacher Shelly Wolter Reinders turned on the TV and watched as over 10,000 Afghan refugees left their homes and arrived at Fort McCoy. 

“I couldn’t imagine what that would be like,” Wolter Reinders said.

How do you hold onto your culture in a new place? That’s the question she’s is trying to answer through art.

“Islamic Tile Project,” she said.

It’s not the first thing that comes to mind when you hear La Crosse, Wisconsin.

“It was the first time I had learned about Islamic culture in a classroom,” said Sylvie, a seventh grader at Longfellow.

Wolter Reinders applied for and won La Crosse Community Foundation’s Global Awareness Classroom Grant. The grant encourages classrooms to teach students about different cultures and religions around the world. Students in Wolter Reinders’s art class learned how geometric shapes found everywhere are a form of Islamic art. 

“In shower curtains, in pillows, in rugs and I think it’s everywhere and we just don’t recognize it or realize it,” said Wolter Reinders.

The tile project provides an opportunity to bridge a gap between students of different backgrounds. Students made their own Islamic Art tiles using clay and glaze. Each tile has a symmetrical pattern. One of the common patterns used is a star to represent the infinite will of God. 

“It creates a place of support and welcoming for any students that we have in this building who are practicing Muslims and that’s super important because we’re all in this together,” said Wolter Reinders.

Behind each paint stroke is a lesson.

“Part of this process was to look at vocabulary, it wasn’t just art making. It was looking at a map of the world and where Muslims live,” said Wolter Reinders.

It’s a lesson that goes beyond this classroom.

“There’s so much more to the world than just Longfellow. There’s so much more than America, and Wisconsin, and La Crosse,” said Sylvie.

Wolter Reinders says she hopes that Muslim students who walk by the display feel represented. The tiles are on display at Longfellow Middle School.