Art is essential but kid art is nothing short of magical. The maintenance fairies came with their favorite (and newly repaired) electric cherrypicker and hung last year's first weaving piece high above the hallway in the sunny atrium. As installations go,(and speaking in an absolutely unbiased, professional tone here) I'm in love. I used the same heavy cotton string we warped the loom with to attach it (loosely, crochet-style) to a medium-sized alder trunk that I harvested from the woods down the hill from my house. There was something about the rough texture and irregular lines of the wood that made it the perfect match to our woven panels. All sorts of fibers make up the five panels. We wove with anything we could get our hands on, including strips of recycled denim, glossy satin ribbons, pieces of calico, fat yarn, skinny yarn, rough brown twine, heavy velvet ribbon (think holiday wreaths) and the occasional feather. At the time, we worried a little about how the youngest artists let long tendrils of surplus yarn dangle as they rushed to add another color to successive rows. I even made an attempt at French braiding the "tails" but the gathered multitudes didn't like that look, either. We let them trail.
As is the way for these kinds of long term projects, inter erst waxed and waned with the children. Weaving offers a couple of things that no other medium does - that Zen-like feeling of putting order to patterns and the feel of the fibers as you work them is important. So, too, is the feeling of community that comes from adding your artistic ideas to something that 500 other artists are working on. Some children became weaving "experts" and concentrated on a panel that they considered their own. Others spent time straightening out perceived imperfections before they wove, or organized several peers to try a certain technique they'd invented. Because of the individual attention, each artist can point out which of the strands he or she is responsible for. I enjoyed conference time when children would bring parents by to weave a strand or two and to point out their favorite contributions. All the weavers could remember exactly who worked beside them when they wove, too. Friends intensify memory.
I mentally adjusted my super teacher pedestal down a few notches, though, when I realized that, instead of remembering the exact location of their stitches, several kids claimed the sunset near the center of the largest of the panels on the right side of the piece. I'd added it one morning to show some fifth grade girls that we could weave ta pastry-style with a pattern in mind rather than limiting ourselves to simple lines. I heard no fewer than three of our younger artists proudly claim the sunset as their own and realized that absolute precision, once again, had been trumped by pride in a group effort.
This year's weaving is well underway but won't be complete by the time our April art show comes. The plan is to take it along with all of our art for display and to offer it as a community activity. I envision lots of cool photographic possibilities when families add a little bit of this or that to the work in progress. I'll be certain to leave lots of colorful yarns, strips of material, and ribbons close to the loom and I think I'll hide the scissors, just to be safe.
You’d think we’d never had beads, buttons or pipe cleaners in the Evergreen studios before. They’ve been there all along, but the silly art teacher had been rationing them so tight that they positively squeaked. What self respecting artist can craft anything out of three beads, I ask you? So – after gathering some courage from one of the clever TAB list members (thanks, Diane!) I decided to reorganize the beads and buttons mess and create (drum roll, please…) Sparkly Things! The phrase is reminiscent of both a crow in an animated film during my daughters’ childhoods and the habit of the youngest one who, when presented with a smorgasbord of offerings at the big Albuquerque flea market, went straight to the shiniest plastic silliness she could find.
Only part of the message for the artists this week was about where the Sparkly Things could be found. We also talked about measuring a scoop of beads or buttons for each project and why that kind of conservation is even necessary. I remind them gently that nearly 500 artists use these studios and most “get” the concept of sharing. A physical demonstration of how much “stuff” tablespoon scoop holds is a good math reinforcement, and the practice in sorting and categorizing is valuable, too. (“These beads are too small for my yarn, Ms. J. Would you buy some skinnier stuff, please?”)
There’s an amazing variety of approaches to using Sparkly Things. We have traditional necklaces and bracelets, of course, strung on plastic lanyard-type of stuff or stretchy strung, but we also have twisty pipe cleaners (“Why is it called that? “ comes from children who are at least two generations from their great grandpas’ pipes) and a whole host of collage applications. Big grandma jacket buttons make marvelous steering wheels in the 3D Construction center and a few embryonic stuffed animals have actual button eyes. (“Are you SURE this is the way buttons are sewn on, Ms. J.? This is hard!”) I’m hoping that some of the Native American children try some of the beautiful panel/blanket work that is part of the Skokomish or Squaxin traditions but it hasn’t happened yet. I’ll get in contact with my colleague who works in Indian Education and see if she’ll do a fly by to jiggle loose some of those ideas.
In the meantime, bead on!