Monday, November 17, 2014

Artist Residency- Family Literacy Center

Last Spring I was accepted to become part of Vermont Art Council's Teaching Artist Roster.  This allows me to go to area schools as an artist-in-residence through grant funding to which the school applies.  I am honored to have begun ten weeks as a teaching artist in Barre, Vermont, at the Family Literacy Center.

This amazing program serves pregnant and parenting young adults, women and men, who want to graduate high school.  There are currently ten students, which, because of the highly individualized attention, is the program maximum.

The students have clear goals for my time with them, which they would like to culminate in an art show. The content they have selected (a huge mural, 8'x8', planned and painted collaboratively and realistically) is both challenging and ambitious, and so we spent the first two weeks together getting to know each other and directing our focus to a single, powerful word of their choosing. The goal of this exercise was to select a word that would sustain them throughout the ten weeks, and hopefully beyond.
The list they brainstormed
Why one word? Because frankly, it is unreasonable to expect people to be nice, patient, loving, and kind at all times.  We all have undesirable traits, and most of us have too many to tackle all of them at the same time, so we give up trying to change. Instead, thinking of a person we admire, and picking their single characteristic that we wish that we could too embody, allows for more clarity and focus.  How do we wish to be seen by others? What one word can we attempt to embody in everything that we do?

Too lofty? In between their studies and painting, these students are already making herbal teas and shushing babies. I have no doubts.

Painting plywood
Our project itself was an exercise in being patient with oneself. We made string art.

They chose colors and textures that their word represented to them.
If you have never made string art, you are probably a little saner for that choice. It requires lots and lots of hammering nails. Little nails. Some bent, some too far through, some that cruelly seem to disappear  and allow the hammer to hit your thumb.

Tap tap tap
At this point, one might consider whether the choice to spell "Commitment" in nails might get you, well, committed.  But living your word, of course, is the goal. The young lady above chose the word "Patience." Physical challenges she endures made this word all more important, to remind her to be gentle on herself, to allow herself to be patient not only with her children and those around her, but most importantly, with herself.
Hammering in the first nails
Students could choose to either design their own lettering or follow the shapes of a font that they liked. The artists above printed out their words. In the background is the most astonishingly calm four-week old I have ever had the privilege to meet- he slept nearly the whole time, despite ten pounding hammers. The students are encouraged to bring their children to class.
Beginning the string
 With all of the hammering, artists are inserting nails that will form a framework for the string.  The strings are thin embroidery floss in an array of colors. If the artist used paper to guide the nails, they tore it out to begin adding string.
Patiently, patiently....
One of the amazing parts of making art is that it can reduce your anxiety, or at least distract you from the stressors of life for a few minutes. And this group admits to having plenty of stress. That, in fact, is sort of the basis for their mural concept we begin next week- that having a baby is stressful, and the support doesn't always come from where they might hope. So they look to others to help form those supports. 
Couple attending the program together
Like any person entering parenthood, some students find a supportive partner, and some do not.  So it not surprising that the themes of the words that they chose are so consistent, and so universally needed by all of us.




The names of their children

More LOVE. There can never, ever, be too much.
of course,

1 comment:

  1. What a beautiful post...the artwork, the sentiments, your students, and their dreams. Thank you for sharing them.