Saturday, June 17, 2017

Jazz up a hallway with a permanent student art gallery!

On The Artful Advocate blog, I shared about the student art gallery in my former school, pictured above.  I'll share a gallery tour in this post, as well, but I also want to point out a few pieces of interest.  For example, these two adorable elephants pictured below were painted more than 10 years apart!  (Sorry about the picture quality in this post; the hallway is narrow and there's a lot of unavoidable reflections on the glass in the frames.)

Let me tell you more about the gallery.  The school building in the tiny district where I taught was brand new in 1999, and for the first time, all K-12 students (between 500-600 kids total) were housed in one building.  A long stretch of bare hallway connects the high school and elementary wings, and I decided it was a perfect place to adorn permanently with student artwork.  With the support of my administration and school board, financial support from the PTSA organization,discounts and donations of mat board and frames from my favorite framer, and help with the installation by my fabulous custodians, the gallery became a reality and several pieces of artwork were added each year. To see the elementary gallery as it looks now, adorned with more than a dozen years of student artwork, watch the video tour below.

A year or two after my gallery began, the high school teacher also began adding artwork at the high school end of the hallway, and you can tour that section of the gallery in this video.

What's really fun is seeing some things that have happened.  For example, there's a few kids who have a piece on both the elementary and the high school end of the gallery, such as the 4th grade painted tissue paper collage below, and the high school acrylic painting underneath, both created by a talented young lady.  This artist, as with many others whose work hangs in the gallery, is now a college graduate! 

And there's these two paintings of trees, painted by talented twin sisters while in 4th grade.  I believe one of the girls has gone on to an art-related career, and a younger sister is also an artist.  We drew trunks that touched the top of the paper, and added branches that also extended to the edges of the paperl  The kids practiced color blending with tempera paint to create these paintings. 

While I was videotaping and photographing the gallery a few days ago, I noted many pieces of artwork are from projects I've never blogged about, so I'll be posting about them in coming posts.  For example, this fan design below was made by a 4th grader.  It was painted with values of India ink with the addition of some charcoal, and coated with Mod Podge.  Most students folded their fans and added cardboard sticks so they could actually be used, but this student chose to simply mount his fan, and was happy to have it selected to add to the gallery.

Perhaps my favorite piece in the gallery, and the story that goes with it, is this 1st grade portrait "of Mary by Karen" below, created before the gallery even existed. (Again, I apologize for image quality.  Along with the reflections on the glass, the artwork has also faded a bit.)  The students did these portraits sitting across from a friend they wanted to draw.  The artwork was done with construction paper and colored  pencils, and honestly, this looked JUST like Mary, bright blue eyes, freckles and all! The drawings had been sent home with the artists.  When Mary and Karen graduated from high school (still best friends), the same year I retired, Karen's mother brought me the artwork and suggested it hang in the gallery.  I framed it, and hung it at the very beginning of the gallery.  I swear, it STILL looks jut like Mary!
In the coming few days, I'll share stories (and lesson instructions) for a few other pieces hanging in the gallery.  Come back to take a look!

Sunday, June 11, 2017

Nature Interlude: Bird Babies and Loon Attacks

I most often use this blog to post about art projects, visits to art exhibits and museums and other artsy excursions, and other art and/or education topics.  But every so often I like to take a break to share a little bit of nature with you, through my camera.  I guess it is still an artsy post then, since I'm using my photography to share the magic of the natural world, which can be inspiration for other artwork, or art lessons and projects with students. Today's post is one of these nature interludes.  [Above, baby Red Wing Blackbirds]

In the theme of baby birds, this loon [officially, a Common Loon], above, is sitting on a nest, presumably on eggs.  Loons are water birds, and only come ashore to nest.  Their legs are placed very far back on their bodies, which makes it pretty impossible for them to walk much at all.  This is the first time I've ever seen a nesting loon, and the last time I come anywhere near a mama loon on a nest.  Actually, the pic below shows more accurately how far I was from the loon.  All closeup photos of the loon (and of the red wing blackbird babies) were taken using a zoom.  There's no way I'd ever get so close.  Anyhow, when I discovered the loon on the nest, I took my kayak in a wide arc around it, attempting to keep a respectful distance. [By the way, the other bird in the pic below is a Common Grackle]

I had kayaked from our Adirondack family camp [a seasonal cottage near the shore] to the little marsh at the north end of the lake [Loon Lake; one of two in the Adirondacks].  I always enter the marsh the same way, heading toward one side where there's stumps and logs where I often find turtles basking, past the tree where I saw a magnificent Bald Eagle a couple of years ago, aiming toward the weeds in the back of the marsh, where sometimes if I'm lucky I'll spot a Great Blue Heron fishing. 

And that's when I saw the loon, on a platform that had been placed in the lake several years ago, for loon nesting.  But I've never seen anything on the platform before, other than a turtle and some dragonflies, so I was caught by surprise.  We always have loons on the lake, but I've never spotted where they had nested.  I drifted slowly, taking pictures.  The loon seemed undisturbed, turning her head one way, then the other. 

After a bit, she slipped into the water, taking a peek my way, and then swimming in the opposite direction, which I took to mean she was fishing.  At this point I decided to continue toward the back of the marsh, to look for other wildlife.  Then, the loon went under, and suddenly surfaced directly in back of my kayak.  I was stunned.  I quickly tucked my camera between my knees, and the loon dived again, this time surfacing right in front of me, beside my kayak.  She was angry.  She motored forward directly at me at high speed, inches from my face, spreading her massive wings and beating them furiously against the water, her beak opening and closing, and her red eyes blazing.  I paddled backwards furiously,  until I was able to turn the nose of the kayak away and head forward, toward the back of the marsh, heart beating at breakneck speed, hands shaking.  I kayaked to the far side of the marsh, while she patrolled from the center, watching me until I exited and headed back into the open lake.  I don't recall when else I've been so terrified.  I doubt I've ever paddled faster, and I don't think my heartbeat slowed and my hands stopped shaking until I was back at my dock, a mile and a half away.  I have no plans to return to the marsh any time soon...

My visits to the baby red wing blackbirds have been much calmer, and much safer.  I discovered the nests at a pond just minutes from my home.  There's a well-used walking path around the pond, and walkways into some wetlands.  I frequently take walks around the pond, and always bring my camera, because there's lovely gardens.   

I've discovered three nests with babies at various stages of development, and I know there are more nests deep in the rushes.  Very cool.  These pics are a variety from my visits to the pond, every  few days.  The baby birds develop very fast!

Here's mama with a caterpillar in her beak, ready to feed her babies. 

And here's dad.  He looks like he's pacing! 

 This baby was developed enough to be kicked out of the nest.  The babies hang onto rushes until they are able to fly, waiting for mama or daddy to bring food. 

 I've named this baby Mr. Grumpy-pants.  Look at that face!

Enjoy the nature around you this summer, and take your time! Most of the people I see walking at this pond have no idea these baby birds are just a few feet away from them.  I feel so privileged to have made these discoveries.  But take my reminder: wild animals, no matter how beautiful, are ultimately WILD.  You cannot predict their behavior.  I certainly have learned that!

Friday, June 2, 2017

The Circle Museum, a roadside treasure

On the side of a well-traveled road, near the eastern border of NY with Massachusetts, lies a hidden treasure, a roadside attraction, an outdoor sculpture park that is totally unadvertised, waiting to be discovered by passersby.  My family and I first happened upon the Circle Museum, the brainchild of artist Bijan Mahmoodi, a little more than two years ago, while on our way to visit a waterfall.  I blogged about the discovery in this post, here, written in September 2015.

A couple of days ago my husband and I were coming home from a drive (our destination will be a topic for another post) and decided to bypass highway traffic.  Instead we took a detour to visit the sculpture park again.  It was, again, worth the time. 
The pic above shows just a tiny percentage of the fields full of Bijan's sculptures.  Amazing stuff, whimsical, inventive, and compelling.  And there's so many pieces, including many that have been made in the two years since we were there last.  I look forward to returning again in the wintertime, to see the sculptures draped with sparkling white snow.  I'll bet that its fabulous!

Bijan and my husband chatted for a while while I took pictures.  He learned that Bijan had recently had surgery for cancer, but thankfully doesn't need chemo.  He's been painting while he waits to be healed enough to build some more monumental scrap metal sculptures.  Here's a couple of pics of his studio. 

 This gathering of strange little sculptures in a patch of weeds reminds me of an old overgrown graveyard.  Maybe that was the intent? 

I was rather smitten by this little guy tucked among the trees.

And these gigantic flowers made me smile.

 Don Quixote, perhaps?

Thank you, Bijan Mahmoodi, for sharing your incredible talents with the world! 

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Garden Gnomes and Gnome Homes!

The last time I made garden gnomes with my students was with 3rd graders during my final year teaching, before I retired in June 2012.  Now, with my DragonWing Arts program, I have way less students, so their projects can be bigger and more elaborate.  So each student built a papier-mache garden gnome, and also created a unique "gnome home" in a tree stump or mushroom.
I can't separate the projects into two separate posts, since they go together so well, so I'll try to explain how we made both, all in this one post!
The gnome armatures are simple.  We started with Gatorade bottles. Some kids chose 20 oz. bottles, but most wanted the smaller 16 oz.  On the bottoms, I hot glued a cardboard circle for a flat surface, and then two easter egg halves for shoes.  Inside the bottles we put a scoop of playground sand, to weight them down and keep them from tipping over.  We closed the caps and added cones of heavy paper for hats, taped and hot glued.  Arms were made with newspaper-covered wire.  The whole assembly was covered with overlapping layers of papier-mache, and when dry, finished with a layer of gesso for a bright white painting surface. 

Meanwhile, we began also building the gnome homes, using cardboard from cut up shipping cartons, bent along to corrugations to make them curve, and then hot glued and taped.  Tops were either made from paper bowls or more cardboard, for mushrooms or tree stumps, depending on what the student wanted.  Branches were added with cereal box cardboard as desired, and they were glued to a cardboard base.  The students wanted windows and doors, so they drew them where desired and I cut them with a utility knife.  The entire assemblies were covered with plaster bandage to make them solid.  Some students used the plaster bandage to make tree roots, and/or to add texture to their trunks.  As you can see, the sizes of the houses varied widely.

Next, the kids mushed together some polyester fiberfill and acrylic paint, to make green "moss" to use on their gnome homes.  We started out wearing rubber gloves, but that didn't last too long....  It was too much fun to have green hands!

We used Nasco Bulk-Krylic paints on both the gnomes and the gnome homes, and  then, we embellished.  The gnomes were given hair and/or beards as desired, wiggle eyes, and more.  A couple of gnomes became archers, and one (pictured below left) even had a quiver of arrows on his back, that, and his long blonde pony tail, unfortunately are not visible in the photo.  The quiver was made from felt that was cut and glued.  A disco ball was made for one "disco gnome", and other embellishments included belts, aprons,and as you can see on the right below, a backpack filled with colorful feathers!
This gnome below has a desk with an iMac and an iPhone on it, on his rooftop patio.  Plus he has really cute ears, I think!

The gnome homes were loaded with leaves, flowers, pine cones, bark, and so much more.  An old stash of sample ceramic tiles were used to make sidewalks and patios.  Some laminate samples were made into door signs.  Colored sheet foam and wire were used to make things like the swing shown below.  (She also has a rooftop garden on her gnome home.)  We were going to make flowers, but running out of time, I got fake flowers at the dollar store and we hot glued them all over the place!  The gnome is wearing a really cute apron, but  unfortunately you can't see it all in this pic. 
I love this sign I discovered on the rooftop garden.  It says "Express Yourself With Art!"

The gnome home below has a large piece of birch bark for a roof, with some tile on it for relaxing, and a bark chimney, too. And lots of tree roots, and moss and vines, and such. 

The gnome home below is for an archer gnome, and has a secret doorway hidden by the flower on the top, and a staircase and ladder to access the secret door.  And on the yellow square, the gnome is selling magic potions, or something of the sort. 

What can I say?  I just plain love this mushroom-top gnome home below, laden with flowers, glittery pine cones and a bark glider-swing, and moss.  So pretty!  The gnome previously pictured, with the basket of feathers on her back lives here!

The girl who made this gnome home / disco dance club below is a quiet shy third grader with a wonderfully sly sense of humor.  The GDC on her gnome's chest stands for Gnome Disco Club, which is a tall mushroom.  Her gnome is actually able to fit inside the mushroom.

This below is the tallest gnome home, for one of the archer g nomes.  Sorry the picture is so poor.  Totally the fault of the photographer (me). 

With the room filled with open containers of wiggle eyes, fiberfill, fabric scraps, pipe cleaners, pompoms, fake flowers, feathers, craft foam, felt, toothpicks, wire, and more, everyone started to get a wee bit goofy.  Here's what happened:

 I hope you enjoyed our colorful gnomes and gnome homes!  I know we all enjoyed making them! Here's a link to another old post of charming student garden gnomes.