Children are born curious. Even an infant will seek out new sensations and be drawn to the smells, textures and images they experience in their world. As children grow older, creative play becomes the “work” of their lives — exploring what happens when one stacks a block on top of another, finding out what yogurt feels like on one’s hands, what if feels like when smooshed all over the highchair tray.
Parents and other caregivers naturally respond to this by providing children with opportunities to explore, through books, music, toys and art. Without art teachers or an art program in local elementary schools, Walla Walla nonprofit Carnegie Picture Lab operates with the mission of “nourishing creativity by supporting and enhancing art education for elementary school children in the Walla Walla Valley.”
Parents, too, find ways to bring creativity into their children’s lives. Local Carnegie Picture lab volunteer board members were queried on the ways they provide creative, artistic opportunities in their homes.
Artist Augusta Farnum found the question to be “(N)o small matter. ... The food we eat is considered creativity. All spaces, the walls, surfaces, everything is covered with art that is made by friends, or ourselves, or things to make art with.” she said. A favorite family game started as a way to pass the time while waiting for an event to start. One person will start a drawing, then, “we take turns passing the paper and each turn the drawing develops. Sometimes hilariously, sometimes it doesn’t make sense and sometimes it can become very beautiful,” she noted.
Emily Tillotson, mother to 9-year-old Claire, has been “taking Claire to see art from a young age,” she said. “Very brief visits at first, but these have taught her that she too can approach art just like anyone else, older or younger.” This exposure has already promoted in Claire a love of museums and a preference for contemporary and modern art.
With four young children, Catherine Blethen says, “let them get messy!” A simple activity for a hot day is a bucket of water and an old paint brush on the deck. “Hours of fun!” she says.
Walla Walla Public Library Children’s Librarian Elizabeth George finds that it is her adult children who are bringing art into her life. Her son Daniel is an abstract painter, weaves and is a great knitter. Sara is a poet, writer and collage artist. Carly creates in the home, the kitchen and the garden. Hayden writes, and Christian plays guitar and sings. A proponent of unstructured play time, George also made sure to have plenty of “art-making” supplies at the ready in her house.
New volunteer Rachna Sinnot has two children, aged 6 and 9. Whenever possible, she takes them to museums and art exhibits, makes use of school and community art events and makes sure they have art supplies available for use at home. In addition, she invites her “artsy friends to come over and play with us.” she said.
Travel is also a great opportunity to expose children to art. Krista Davidson has two children, ages 16 and 18. “We always make it a point to see some art when on vacation. Checking out the local architecture, visiting a museum, sculpture or exhibit (for example the Chihuly Gardens and Glass exhibit in Seattle) this ties the art to it’s context and has stimulated lots of discussion.” She has also been known to send her children, when younger, outside with sidewalk chalk. Her daughter Lea turned this into a summerlong art project, drawing a different picture outside every few days, then photographing her work afterward.
“Always a teacher, lucky enough to be a grandma,” proclaims former elementary educator and principal Nancy Wythicombe, who keeps an easel and paints in her kitchen, so her grandchildren have ready access to art-making when visiting. She has also made an “office” for her grandchildren — their own space where they can create with found objects.
As an avid quilter, I make an effort to include my two boys, ages 9 and 12, in the process of designing a quilt and choosing the fabric while also keeping them abreast of my progress. A finished quilt can become a family affair, with the boys helping to hold the quilt aloft for the celebratory picture-taking of the final project.
One of the most delightful aspects of parenting, bringing art and creativity into a child’s life is a process. As Augusta Farnum noted, “Like all muscles, creativity needs to be exercised. It is endless in the ways it can be explored. It is a choice to weave in.”
Tracy Thompson is the communications chair of the Carnegie Picture Lab board, as well as a freelance writer and nonprofit marketing consultant.