This week my kindergarteners are learning about architects and builders. Each year I borrow classroom sets of wooden blocks from the kindergarten teachers to use. We read Roberto the Insect Architect and they build structures with wooden blocks and then draw what they build.
I have to suppress my innate desire for reasonable control as there is no way to do this quietly. My only requirements are that each table work as a team and that the structures must balance and stand on their own. It is great to see the kids get so involved and to see what they discover.
As each table decides they are finished, I take a photo of their structure (thanks to the wonders of digital photography). Here are two photos from today. Both structures were made with the same set of blocks but by students from different tables. The top one they called a church and the second one is a city with connecting roads. I guess I need to get some toy cars!
In the last four weeks I've been fortunate to participate in three state art education conferences - Idaho, New Mexico, and Texas - and have been energized by the dedicated, hard-working art teachers I have met. They all shared commonalities of unbounded enthusiasm for teaching art and engaging their students, despite any number of obstacles they may face.
The first photo here shows me with the officers of the IAEA, Karen Fothergill, Jackie Nelson, Robin Gray, Estuardo Hiram-Miranda, and Keith Farnsworth. Their conference was held at a wonderful charter school, Garden City Community School.
The second photo shows me with participants, including Susan Gabbard (former NAEA president), gathered around Phyllis Roybal's laptop. We were watching videos of her very young students building snowmen and conducting experiments in a wet table full of snow in her classroom. Phyllis introduced us all the wonders of colored glue (using food coloring), among many other marvelous things.
Registration for the joint SchoolArts/CRIZMAC Folk Art Extravaganza is now open. Find out details in the December SchoolArts, accessible both through the magazine website and CRIZMAC's website. We usually fill up quickly so don't delay if you are interested in joining us in this fantastic experience in Santa Fe, participating in hands-on experiences and the International Folk Art Market, July 6-12, 2011.
Until I went to Alaska this past summer, I hadn’t given much thought to totem poles. My only personal encounter with them before that was at my high school in Shreveport, Louisiana. Our school mascot was (and still is) an “Indian” and I remember days in which there were totem poles and teepees all over the front lawn. Even way back then I knew that Louisiana Indians never used teepees or totem poles and that no Native peoples used the two forms together.
In Alaska at the Saxman Native Village near Ketchikan, one of the largest totem parks in the Pacific Northwest, I was able to see many totems, visit a clan house, participate in a dance, and meet Nathan Jackson, the foremost totem pole carver today. Everyone had the same question, “What story did each totem tell?” We didn’t know the stories but we knew, just by looking, that each totem had a story to tell. And, we wanted to know what they were.
Totem poles are tree trunks carved into abstracted figures or emblems by Pacific Northwest Coast Native Peoples. Usually carved into Western red cedar, they honor a person or event, serve as welcoming beachfront house posts that relate family history, function as grave markers, or ridicule an individual or family.
In totems, I learned, the “story” is read from the top downward. The carved figures are not read literally, but have symbolic meanings. Early missionaries misinterpreted them as objects of worship; as a result, many were destroyed. Nowadays, many totems are commissioned and may cost as much as $1,500.00 a foot.
To me, experiencing the totems was a reminder of how we all seek to understand our lives and the lives of others through stories. As art teachers, we want to share diverse cultures and artistic practices with our students but how can we share such stories without trivializing the intentions or copying the style of the originating culture? Can we interpret historic practices through the lens of contemporary culture? Can we share with our students this challenge itself? (Think of the rich aesthetic discussions that could develop!)
Please share with SchoolArts your thoughts and successes concerning these issues and concerns. Tell us your stories.
Looking for opportunities to share your students' creativity? The Scholastic Art & Writing Awards competition is including "Design Video Games" this year. Games will be judged by industry leaders and a select number of teens grades 7-12 will win top honors and scholarships. The deadline is January 28, 2011.
Also offered is the NY Life Award, sponsored by the New York Life Foundation. Teens are invited to submit works of art and writing that deal with loss and bereavement. Six winners will be selected to receive $1000.00 scholarships and top works will be shown as part of the annual national exhibit in June 2011. Submissions may now be entered. For more information, visit www.artandwriting.org.