Lessons swirl art, art history

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PTA volunteer Cyndy Knight shows Greenpark Elementary School students the ABC's of how to transfer paint from plexi-glass to paper in a monotype-like print making process for a "Picture Lady" art program. During the program students studied several artists and then worked in styles similar to that artists. On this day the students' inspiration came from Marc Chagall.

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Greenpark Elementary School student Becca Ayling, 9, reacts as she separates her paper from Plexiglas to reveal the translation of her painting during a "Picture Lady" program at the school. The students talked about Marc Chagall and then attempted to work with bright colors in a style similar to his.

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Greenpark Elementary School student Jazmine Cisneros, 9, swirls red and white paints together on her piece of Plexiglas during a "Picture Lady" program where the students explored the work of Marc Chagall. Students created colorful paintings on Plexiglas and then transferred them to paper by roller, applying multiple layers in a process similar to one the artist may have used.

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Meticulous brush strokes grace the Plexiglas "canvas" and paper of Lucas Gonzalez, 8, as he works paint to translate more into his piece in a style similar to Marc Chagall during a "Picture Lady" program at Greenpark Elementary School.

WALLA WALLA - Following a lesson on the artist Marc Chagall, an art lesson.

The close to 30 students in Robin Peterson's third-grade class at Green Park Elementary listened as Cyndy Knight demonstrated how to dab paint on a piece of Plexiglas, fold a blank sheet of paper over it, and roll a brayer across it to transfer the paint to paper in a new image.

"If you put a little dot it's going to look like this," Knight said, making a larger circle with her hands, "because you're squishing it between the Plexiglas and the paper."

The young artists quickly got to work crafting their own creations, free to explore shapes and colors to create unique images.

"I'm going to make a Mars," said 8-year-old Lucas Gonzalez, as he painted and then pressed a red circle.

There was really just one word for 9-year-old Jasmine Cisneros to describe her satisfaction at peeling back her sheet of paper from her Plexiglas.

"Awesome," she said as colorful shapes appeared on her paper.

Throughout the school year and at elementary schools throughout the district, children have been learning about artists and imitating their art style as part of the Picture Lady program.

Since the 1970s, the program, run by the Carnegie Art Center, has been bringing art history lessons into Walla Walla classrooms with the goal of enriching children through art education. The program was established by the same women who brought the Carnegie Art Center to the city. But until this year, the program was limited to second-grade students, and to brief lessons at the end of the school year.

Under new direction this year by chair Augusta Farnum, the program has evolved to include kindergarten through fifth-grades at all the city's elementary schools, and the instruction of three artists over the course of the school year.

The Chagall lesson was the second artist taught at Green Park this year. Earlier in the year there was a lesson on Wassily Kandinsky, and the program will conclude at the school with a focus on Pablo Picasso.

By the end of the school year, all elementary school children in the district will have learned not just the history of those same three artists, but will have also tried their hands at creating their own inspired works. Next year the program will include Davis Elementary in College Place, and may cover four artists instead of three, Farnum said.

For Farnum, combining lessons on the artists and then exploring the medium is particularly enriching, at a time when art education and exploration in elementary schools continues to wane.

Farnum said her passion for art and art education is part of why the Carnegie Art Center board approached her last year to take over the Picture Lady program. The board was familiar with Farnum's drive to bring more art education to schools.

"I know now there is no art in the elementary schools, unless a school decides to do it on their own," she said.

While taking over the program, Farnum also made it clear her goals was to make over the program.

"I didn't want it to be just in the second grade, I wanted it to be every grade," she explained. "And I wanted every child to get an art activity to go with the artist lesson."

And so far, the program has done just that thanks to the parents and other volunteers who stepped forward to support the program by providing the lessons. Carnegie covers the cost of the materials.

Knight, a PTA parent, taught the Chagall lesson over the two days in Peterson's class, where her daughter is a student.

"I just love to see the creative process," Knight said as she went around watching the children work. Dozens of volunteers like Knight have brought the Picture Lady program to schools this year.

Each artist is taught over two days, for about an hour a day. On the Thursday and Friday before school let out for spring break, Peterson's students learned about Chagall's life. The art lesson on Friday was saved for the end of the day.

Peterson said typically, her students would have been practicing writing or handwriting.

"I really appreciate this opportunity," Peterson said about having the art lessons introduced in her class.

"I like it because it validates the kids' own creativity and imagination."

The children let that creativity flow during the exercise, starting with small dabs of paint and then filling up their sheets with bigger images.

Gabriel Young had a clear vision for the shapes coming together on his paper.

"It's a person that's going like this," he said, spreading his arms out, "and has wings."

For Farnum, nurturing each child's own contributions is a key goal of the program. And while feeding their creativity, the program can also offer something new.

"My whole premise was if a child doesn't experience it in the classrooms of a public school, there's a high chance they won't get it at all," she said.

Maria P. Gonzalez can be reached at mariagonzalez@wwub.com or 526-8317.

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