PANORAMA - Seeing the light

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A study of famous 17th century Dutch painter Rembrandt might seem a bit advanced for a class of second-graders.

But even Rembrandt's great works started with simple lines and sketches, before intricate details and rich colors took over.

For students in Cristy Stimmel's class at Davis Elementary, Rembrandt provided an introduction to sketching portraits, and the important role of light and shade in capturing people's expressions.

The students were learning about Rembrandt, the first of several artists to be taught this school year, through the Carnegie Art Center's Picture Lady program. Although around since the 1970s, the program took on new life last year under the direction of program chair Augusta Farnum. Farnum broadened the program to include more artists and more detailed instruction, and also opened it up to all elementary school grades, instead of just second grade as had been previously taught.

With a team of dedicated parent and community volunteers, the program reaches all elementary school children in Walla Walla, and expanded to College Place this year.

In Stimmel's class recently, parent volunteer Stephanie Kinnaman walked the students through an art project after a brief introduction to Rembrandt and his style.

"We're going to practice making light on our faces," Kinnaman told the students. The students practiced by sketching four quick self-portraits on a single sheet of paper, with a sun sketched in the center of the page. The children were then asked to represent how light and shadow would hit each of the four faces, using oil pastels.

The students were quickly absorbed in the work, playing with the "cray-pas," or pastels, which are thicker and more vibrant than wax crayons.

Brendon Rowland placed colorful hair on his portraits, giving one a head of orange hair, another blue, the others purple and green. Oliver Pinion alternated browns and peach colors over his four face sketches.

"I've got a lot that like to draw in here," Stimmel said.

As the students sketched, Kinnaman reminded them not to take too long because the real lesson was still waiting.

"We want to get to the fun part, and that's drawing a picture of your teacher," she said.

Throughout the room, prints of some of Rembrandt's famous works had been displayed. There was "A girl with a Broom," "The Polish Rider," and "The Night Watchman," each showing the artist's unique use of shade and light.

Stimmel then moved to the front of the room, perched on a stool, and sat still while a flashlight propped on a desk illuminated the lower left part of her face. Her long, dark, straight hair was flipped to rest over her shoulders, at the request of the students.

Alex Smith used light pencil strokes to capture his teacher's long hair.

"Did you know you could use your hand to measure the size of your face?" Kinnaman said.

To be sure, Elinah Liaina placed her hand over the oval drawn on her paper to make sure it was the right size.

Stimmel said she gladly opened her classroom to the art lessons, and was at ease sitting for the portrait.

"It's giving them some highly technical knowledge and experience, at a level where they're ready to take it as they can," Stimmel said.

Kinnaman said the overall reactions from the students on the new art lessons seemed positive.

"The kids have all really responded well," Kinnaman said. "And it's kind of fun doing a picture of your teacher."

Davis principal Chris Drabek also welcomed the Picture Lady program at his school, recognizing that without it, some children would never learn art or learn about famous artists.

"The arts, for the last decade or so, have really taken a back seat to an emphasis on reading and math and test scores," he said, yet made a case for arts as a tool to helping children master other core subjects like reading, writing, math and science.

"If anything, I think it can complement it," he said.

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