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Thursday, August 16th, 2012

Gullah Fan for Kids

Amber's daughter with her Gullah fan

One of the early things my husband and I realized in parenting our African-American daughter, was how regional and varied “African-American Studies” could be, from state to state and region to region. Here in historic Philadelphia, there are points of reference that are de rigeur for a Philadelphia school’s program, and they are usually related to this city’s history.

But my good friend Lisa Rentz, a teaching artist in Beaufort, South Carolina, participates in an entirely different African-American experience. She has her Gullah Studies Certificate from the Penn Center of South Carolina (just celebrating its 150th anniversary) and provides arts and creative writing curricula based around aspects of this unique African-American culture.

Who are the Gullah or descendents of the Gullah? The official “Gullah Heritage” corridor is from Jacksonville, NC (which is about an hour north of SC) to Jacksonville, Florida. My friend tells me that Beaufort, SC—part of the “Carolina Lowcountry” region—is “Gullah central–Sea Island cotton, frogmore stew all that good stuff.”

A craft well-known in the Gullah community is the making of sweetgrass baskets. This craft originated in West Africa and continues today in the Lowcountry region. But, in these dog days of summer—and with sweetgrass becoming an endangered plant, even in the South—we need a good fan. In the Southern states, commemorative flat fans, the kind on a wooden stick, are designed for specific events, such as celebrations, remembrances, even advertisements. And in the summertime, they are necessary!

For this very easy, very adaptable craft, you get to use my hand-drawn fan template included here as a PDF.


Thick paper or posterboard
Popsicle sticks
Blue food coloring


1. Cut two of this shape out from poster board (we found a packet of 11 by 17” poster board, which was very convenient).

2. Decorate one side of each piece of poster board. To evoke the indigo growing and dyeing techniques historically practiced in the Gullah community, we made a bubble “paint” of commercial children’s bubbles, colored with blue food coloring, and with a little extra Dawn dish soap mixed in (because the food coloring weighs heavy on the bubble mixture.) This gives a pattern of random splatters as well as totally concentric, blue-and-white circles. (Another technique that would evoke indigo resist dye techniques would be to draw on your fans with a white crayon, and then paint a blue watercolor wash over them.)

3. Glue your two fan pieces together, blank sides facing. Put a book on top for a few hours so they stay nice and flat. Then create a “sandwich” of popsicle sticks at the base (on each side of the fan, and glued together to form a double-thick handle). Weigh this down for a few hours as well.

If you wish to decorate the edge of your fan with lace, colored duck tape or even a fabric edging—it would be lovely. We were too hot to be bothered!

Here are some additional links:

The Lowcountry Arts Integration Project in Beaufort, SC.

Beaufort SC 365–an arts & travel app with a whole category of Gullah info and images.

Penn–founded in 1862 as a school for the newly liberated population of St. Helena Island, Penn has since served as a retreat for Martin Luther King Jr., Peace Corps members in training, and visitors from around the world who want to learn more about the Gullah experience

© 2012, Amber Dorko Stopper. All rights reserved.

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Amber Dorko Stopper is a writer, knitter and mother in Philadelphia. She blogs at

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