Tuesday, June 7, 2016

Keith Haring Lower Gym Mural

Sometimes schools get into a bit of a bind in terms of space. That's why teachers are constantly moving classrooms, even teaching out of trailers and off rolling carts. One space issue that EES has been confronting is Physical Education space on rainy or cold days. The EES gym is multipurpose, and gets used for lunch each day.  On rainy days, that means that P.E. classes go to the Lower Gym. For a long time, this is what the lower gym has looked liked:

Not the most inspiring athletic space. It  has no windows, and we couldn't redo the floor, and some ceiling tiles still need replacing.  But kids are flexible, so they make it work.  And The Most Flexible and Kind Colleague in the World, P.E. teacher Tyler Sessions, has made it work. But the idea that this has been her workspace for years made me, well, a little sad.

So, we hatched a plan. The kids would repaint it.  It wouldn't change the facts of the space, but art has many jobs. Sometimes, art fixes things.  Sometimes, art draws attention to problems that need fixing, by initiating a conversation.

Few artists in history have done that as well as artist and activist Keith Haring. His work straddled the worlds of street graffiti and fine gallery art. But in all of it, he worked to use art as a vehicle to engage his viewers in conversations on difficult topics.
Keith Haring, 1986, Logo against Family Violence
His work was a terrific jumping off point for students. Immediately accessible, colorful, energetic, and easy to relate to. Students used his style as the starting point for sketching dynamic, physically active figures.  Everyone submitted an idea, and the grade voted on their favorites to become part of the finished work.

After the work was chosen, seventeen figures in all, students and I prepped the walls by painting big washes of background color and transferring sketches to the wall with the help of an old-fashioned overhead projector. And then, they painted!

And painted...

and painted...

and painted...

and painted!

It was marvelous to see students so excited to change their own environment, working together.  To make it a little better, and to draw attention to the space.

The finished work was outlined, motion lines added.

Mrs. Sessions has been raving about her revamped classroom, and kids are enjoying it tremendously, too, trying out mimicking the poses they painted. Here are the talented artists!

And the lovely Mrs. Sessions, top left, (grinning!) in her repainted classroom.
Leaving their world better than they found it:

"Art is not a thing, it is a way." 
-Elbert Hubbard

Monday, June 6, 2016

Energy! Wood Sculptures on Physics Concepts

Fourth graders here at EES do a unit of study in their classrooms on potential and kinetic energy. What better classroom-to-art room connection than to bring in the fabulous Alexander Calder to the conversation, as a jumping-off point?

Students looked at his mobiles and stabiles, and considered how his work used energy. In their own work they were charged with the job of "evidencing your understanding of potential and/or kinetic energy through an abstract wooden sculpture."

It's funny how with some kids, that problem statement is broad enough to be actually upsetting, because there was no "right" answer. Hands went up, right and left, all asking basically the same thing: "But what should it look like?!"

"Well," I kept saying, "I don't know exactly how yours will look. It depends on how you choose to make it."

For other students, this was exactly the kind of problem they love.  The tools. The tinkering. The open-ended problem-solving over a dozen iterations of their design to create stored energy or actual motion.

"But what if I am afraid to use the tools?"

It's true, we used real tools. Handsaw, hot glue guns, sandpaper, wire snips, dowel cutters. And a drill. I didn't tell students that they had to use all of the tools, (but most chose to) but they did have to find a way to cut and assemble their design. With lots of support, safety checks, and guidance, students quickly grew to feel comfortable with these tools.

One of the most exciting parts to me is the number of young artists who, due to their new interest, decided to take an after-school woodworking class with Sawmill Studios.

Did all of the artworks function as the artist planned?  Of course not, that isn't how design work usually goes, especially not on the first few tries.  But eventually, artworks all around the room were rolling, springing, and spinning into motion.

The parts of this project which were especially marvelous were that:
 1) each artwork was significantly different than any other,
 2) students took it so seriously and were so invested that there were virtually no management issues,
 3) it was wonderful to see students flexibly try so many variations of an idea instead of mentally committing to a design and being unwilling to change it, and
 4) students gained comfort and confidence in a new and challenging medium.

Students loved it, and asked to work with wood again, so for next year the main change I would make is that I am buying a small vise!

Crazy Colors Lidded Coil Pots

This year I have really missed teaching sans kiln.  Kids love clay so much, and it's a material that offers so many benefits to strength and fine motor skills.  I can offer airdry clay and tons of play-dough, but the working properties are quite different. Throwing on the wheel at BCA is also super fun, but what I would really like to focus on more is clay handbuilding in the lower grades.

These gorgeous, vivid vessels were made by grade 2
The work above is made from Model Magic air-dry clay, which comes in both primary and neon colors, which yield a rainbow of exciting hues when mixed.  No glaze needed for color, but also not food safe since they are not actually ceramic.

The cost of airdry clay is no joke, either. While a 50lb box of clay costs around $17, a 2lb tub of Model Magic goes for about the same price. Once a clay program is in place, the costs of running it are quite manageable.

News which took me by surprise last month is that BCA is moving their art studios out of downtown before the end of the year, due to structural safety concerns and construction at Memorial Auditorium.

If you are thinking that it sounds like a good time for EES to get a kiln, stay tuned!       
I am brainstorming ideas to fundraise next year for one of EES' very own.