Workshop sparks creativity for elementary students

Sixth grade students from Hedgepath-Williams Elementary School of Trenton spent the day learning about art. (Tom O’Dell / Photo Editor)

The lobby was silent at 9:50 a.m.

By 10 a.m., the Art and Interactive Multimedia building was a flood of colors, sound and motion, a sea of unzipping coats and enthusiastically gesturing children. Sixth-graders from Hedgepath-Williams Elementary School in Trenton poured in through the lobby’s glass doors, ready for their art lesson on Feb. 9.

Overseeing the clamor was a small contingent of junior art education majors. Shouting over the din, the members of assistant professor of art Lisa LaJevic’s Principles, Practices and Materials in Art Education class shepherded their charges into six groups and ushered them into either the gallery or Room 102. There, the real lessons began.

“It is the first opportunity that the art education students are given to plan and teach lessons to actual (kindergarten through 12th-grade students),” LaJevic said.

Approximately 30 juniors were about to find out what that opportunity entailed.

Through a partnership with the Bonner Center for Civic and Community Engagement and College Art Gallery Director Sarah Cunningham, 50 sixth-grade students from Hedgepath-Williams took part in an interactive tour of the College Art Gallery’s “Contemporary Inuit Art from Cape Dorset” exhibit led by LaJevic’s students. The sixth-graders also completed their own Inuit-inspired prints under the guidance of the art students.

Some groups hit the gallery first, hopping from sketch to print until the sixth-graders had soaked up all 26 pieces. Some visited the studio first to make their own pieces of art.

Junior art education majors Lisa Czernikowski and Cassie Stedina led one such group.

Czernikowski and Stedina created a lesson plan centered on exploring nature and symbolism in Inuit art. Inspired by the work of prolific Inuit artist Kinojuak Ashevak, whose pieces often depicted owls, and a famous British foursome, the duo dubbed their lesson “I Am The Walrus.”

The lesson required each sixth-grader to choose an animal that reflected his or her personality and create a print of that animal.

Before launching into the activity, Czernikowski explained printmaking to the students.

“Printmaking is any kind of process of art where you make a plate, and then you can make several types of art from those plates,” Czernikowski said.

She also touched on the presence of animals in Inuit artwork.

“Animals are a really common theme in their artwork, and they all represented something,” Czernikowski said, explaining that Ashevak’s owls represented wisdom.

Charged with the task of choosing their own animal symbols, the sixth-graders mulled it over. One, stumped, asked Czernikowski what she’d choose as her animal.

“I would want to be a turtle because when I’m in one of those awkward situations, I’d go into my shell,” Czernikowski said.

Bonnie P., 11, chose an eagle. Why?

“Because it represents the United States, and it’s cool,” she explained.

“Is there anything you wish you could do that it could do?” Stedina prompted.

Bonnie thought it over.

“Fly,” she said.

Bonnie and the other three members of her group created prints by sketching line drawings into a piece of paper and “inking” and “printing” them using a simplified printmaking process. Each student created at least two prints.

All across the room, students created similar projects. One group of sixth-graders sketched renderings of their daily lives that they turned into prints. Another drew Arctic animals, inspired by a piece in the gallery called “Tattooed Whales.” One boy chose a polar bear. His female classmate chose a bunny. Another girl chose a puffin.

Elsewhere in the building, troupes of sixth-graders and their college-aged teachers tramped through the gallery, speculating upon the stories behind the pieces and why their artists chose to color them so. Students darted about on scavenger hunts and lingered quietly in front of their favorite pieces, examining.

John Laughton, dean of the School of Arts and Communication, drifted through the scene, pleased.

“The art is about cultural identity,” Laughton said. “When one group sees another expressing itself (visually), it creates the impetus that they can also use visual identity to express who they are.”

Sixth-grade teacher Ava Garvey was satisfied as well. Garvey had selected students to attend the “field trip” based on behavior and work performance. She watched them enjoy their “treat” with a smile on her face.

“I think it’s fabulous. It’s great how there’s going to be this hands-on (element),” Garvey said. “They’re not exposed to much art in school, unfortunately. It’s important to show how art is important in their daily lives, and they all seem really interested.”

After the sixth-graders piled back onto the bus and returned to Hedgepath-Williams, their group leaders breathed a sigh of relief and reflected upon the experience.

“I thought (the students) really took a lot from this,” Czernikowski said. She was pleased with how engaged her group had been in the art gallery.

Students looked back on successes and failures — or “lessons for next time,” as Czernikowski called them — a few weeks later during LaJevic’s class.

Though the art students presented stories of paint mishaps and time management issues, they swelled with pride when describing their students’ enthusiasm and artwork.

LaJevic was thrilled with their work.

“I was so excited with how well the students performed,” she said in an e-mail. “They did a great job thinking through the lesson, planning and preparing the art materials, communicating and interacting with the learners in the gallery and workshop, engaging in conversations about art and art-making and teaching about printmaking and ‘Contemporary Inuit Art.’”

When asked if she’d like to pursue a collaborative project like this one again, LaJevic’s reply was simple and immediate: “Yes.”

Emily Brill can be reached at brill3@tcnj.edu.