Marking time in the territory they are in

“I have found that my (art) work tells me what I’m interested in. It tells me what I’m doing in the territory I’ve landed in.”

Carrie Mae  Weems speaking at The Corcoran in conjunction with the 30 Americans exhibit, November 12, 2011.

These words really resonated with me. As I revisited my personal work in my grown up studio this weekend, I could see that my work informed me of my thinking during diverse periods in my life.

Artist as mark maker. As a mark maker in the specific moment they are creating. Artist as archiver. It is why artists are so dangerous to repressive regimes. Artists mark time in powerful symbolic ways, reacting, speaking expressing.

This idea makes me think of the listening I do every day.

Visual listening.

With 4, 5 and 6 year olds.

Are they not  also marking time in the territory they are in right now?

The following is the path behind, through and around  one of  the current PreK projects. As long and wordy as this documentation is (and I apologize for this), there is so much more to consider. I hope you will join in “listening” to what is often invisible.

I am posting a sampling of the transcribed work. There was not one that was better than another. Each piece marks the territory where each individual child has landed, right now. It is deepened by the context of being in a small studio group, where ideas are experimented, disseminated, constructed, shared and exclaimed over.

I was thrilled with Gaia’s verbal description for getting bigger or getting fat as “make more big.” Gaia’s first languages are Spanish and Italian. Her taking a risk and telling me a story in English in which she came up with verbal strategies to be heard is quite remarkable!



Hearing Artist Carrie Mae Weems speak after I wrote this, I would like to add another question:

Why is this work/research so very important? At this moment? In this territory? Right now? With young children?

The parts without words


The children have finished their Dream Houses. I am in awe of each child. Utterly amazed at the brilliance evident in each piece. Here are a few  to see:Slide7




but the project continues…

The K classrooms’ continuous common thread has been story and the narrative. Inspired by the work of Patsy Cooper (who came to our school for a talk and will be doing a full day retreat with us next month!) and Vivien Paley as well as working with local storyteller Ariana Ross (who will be in residence in the spring with the K classes) through folk and cultural storytelling techniques, and the childrens’ stories that they bring everyday, incredible fluency and ideas have been blossoming.

With this in mind, I decided I would ask each child to create a story that included themselves and their dream house.

Funny thing, I had no idea how to support this “change” of language, from the visual sculptural representations to the oral tradition of storytelling, then to back to a visual form, representing on paper as a book.

How do ideas do this, change form? How are they born?

I know the environment must be conducive to risks, mistakes and possibility. I know that there must be trust in the process for it to happen. But these are things that don’t have verbal instructions. These things are a combination of inner and outer. (A metaphor fitting for the new Hideaway Space in the studio.)


So, I was honest, and I told the children,”I don’t know how you each come up with ideas best, so, I have placed your dream house in front of you if that helps, I have also brought out pens and your sketchbook. Some folks like to make lists, some draw ideas or something that will happen, some write words, and some people like to just think in their heads. I will put on some music, and for at least 5 minutes, I would like you to work on your story ideas. When you are ready to tell me, just let me know.”

I was struck by the seriousness and commitment each group showed after hearing my uncertain words.

Some began drawing or writing with gusto.2boys

Some gazed into the air and then began drawing.

Some looked down at their paper, like Milo,  and then looked up and said I’m ready! Despite a blank page, his story was lush and full.


Ruby created gestural lines, perhaps this act helped her focus, as I must doodle in order to take in a lecture or a meeting.


Finn created drawings with arrows in between, an actual storyboard.finndraw

How fascinating to observe the small moment where something “becomes”.

I will post some of the stories at a later date.

For now, I am savoring magical parts, the parts without words that are also part of the story. The parts that somehow must be nourished for creativity to flourish and the whole story to be told.


Small World

(detail from Khalisa’s Dream House)

January began with two new spaces. The Winter Garden and the Hideaway Space.


The Winter Garden is a small square tactile table that is now filled with corse sand. Cat tails, shells, feathers, rocks, seed pods, small tree stumps and some plastic dinosaurs. My only rule was to “leave something interesting for the next group of children.”

boysOne group of children had a long narrative play. The land was Dino world, and there were bombs (chestnuts dropping) and a thunderstorm (sand dropping) that led to destruction and the creation of a song by Jonas, which Milo and John joined in singing “Dino world its a big big big big world. We’re cleaning up Dino world Dino World it’s a big big big big world. ” Shelters were made, dinosaurs were rescued, and even a dino toilet existed. There was disaster, clean up, peace, disaster clean up peace, and song and discussion.

When Renzo and Henry chose to play in the Winter Garden, Henry made a discovery. By hitting the cattails, white fluffy snow emerged. I struggled with the awe and visual beauty of this new natural material and at the same time, the material management challenges that came with this, the flyaway seeds were copious and covering everything!  I stayed with the awe, especially after teacher Margaret Ricks came to me and said, “Did you see that the winter garden really has turned into a winter garden?” winter

The winter garden idea emerged from conversations with teacher Sarah Burke, who was struck with the natural glass enclosed atriums that we saw in the Reggio schools where children created with natural materials. She was trying to find a way to adapt the quality of these beautiful spaces on our 3rd floor space. At the same time, I had just written a grant to create an outdoor creative nature play space in a corner of our public school playground. Currently the playground  offerings of a cluster of play equipment and asphalt and bikes.offers gross motor play, but not open ended possibilities for engaging in dramatic creative play in conjunction with natural elements. I did get the grant, (Thank You Capitol Hill Community Foundation!) however the space will start up in March/April, and I too was eager to offer the children something now. The new Winter Garden in the common area, and Sarah’s larger version for her class offer opportunities for adults as well. The narrative  stories of these small worlds change with each group of children. I am looking forward to learning more.

The other new space, the Hideaway Space leela lilahcame out of a conversation with lead teacher John Burst.  I was talking to him about spaces and my observations of how the children use the narrow space of the studio. I told him that I noticed that most of the children use the large square table or the floor, and rarely the counter space, which was becoming space for materials or childrens work. What about creating something under the counter? he asked. I was thrilled with this idea, and thanks to Fredric Robb’s mom and her amazing sewing and creativity, there is an evolving space under the counter. lailaI placed two clipboards and pens next to the new cushions. In this first week, it has been used non-stop.legs A side piece of fabric was added mid-week to make it even more fort-like, milesand we are experimenting with adding another piece of draped cloth that we’ll try next week. I am still reading the essays in the book Secret Spaces of Childhood. I am struck with the small worlds all around me. Even the dream houses, which are constructed small worlds, have even smaller worlds within them.carolineCaroline’s Dream House detail

graceGrace’s Dream House detail

ellaElla’s Dream House detail (Keep Out)

P1050260Jonas’s Dream House detail

Within the project of using natural material to make temporary art, like artist Andy Goldsworthy multiple hidden small worlds and stories exist.

art“It’s a house in the Garden” (collaboration by Forest, Malin and Elanor)


Childrens stories are both sacred and informative, and as teacher Alysia Scofield said in a conversation about these ideas, “It’s all about children and power. These stories are like the figures they made with you.” Amazing.casey

(Detail, below from Casey’s Dream House)

As I observe, document, gather and transcribe stories, I will share them on later posts.

I’ll end with a poem by Walt Whitman:

There was a child went forth everyday,And the first object he looked upon, that object he became…