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.
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?
A strange thing happened this September…no Monarch eggs or caterpillars were to be found on the Milkweed plants in the Peabody school garden. Every year, this is an important ritual. In fact most of the SWS teachers are part of the International Monarch Teacher Network.
I was truly disappointed.
Then, one afternoon, Margi Fineran (room 11 assistant teacher) asked me what the caterpillars were crawling all over the parsley in the children’s garden.
I did a little online research and came to the conclusion that they were Black Swallowtail caterpillars.
I took some in the studio. I was a little nervous. The Monarch life cycle I understood. I went to intensive trainings so I would not harm them, and in fact support their migration. With the Swallowtails, it was a whole new experience. However, it was just the provocation I needed to start the new PreK children thinking about looking closely, observing, and representing their thinking.
I took home those caterpillars every weekend. Of the four I took in, three went into a chrysalis. Instead of hanging from the top, like the Monarchs, the Swallowtails made a “string” around their waist to support themselves while they transformed.
To me they look like some kind of magical seahorse.
It was weeks before I noticed a change in their appearance, indicating it was almost time to emerge.
And then it happened.
Never underestimate the large effect a small moment can make.
Since I had no idea what to feed the Swallowtail butterflies once they emerged, each was released within 4-6 hours of it’s arrival. There would be no observational drawings for weeks at a time, as I did with the Monarch’s. I felt an urgency to release them so that they would survive.
Here is release 1:
For release number two, I asked for some help from Kindergarten friends:
For the final and third release, I asked my PreK friends for help:
There is such profound joy and exhilaration in releasing these small winged beings into the universe. It is the feeling of your heart swelling. It is a collective brief moment shared by all present. It feels like a big gift. When you are there in that moment time changes-as if nothing else exists, but the possibility of flight.
As I post these photos I am smiling.
Natalie left this image on the Buddha Board, a temporary water painting that evaporates. How wonderfully narrative it was of the fleeting experience.
Back inside school, looking closely and becoming observant continued to evolve as a project for the PreK’s. Now, I wanted them to use a new media, paint. This time, instead of using a live caterpillar, they chose from photos I captured during the field trip to the Arboretum. There were so many steps to take. Choosing the colors with thought and care and then following the many protocols for using the paints, brushes, easel and paint cart. Children have such capacity to rise up to expectations when they are trusted to take on new roles and possibilities.
The next preK journey in looking closely, will be observing and using diverse materials in a new way.
There is no discovery , awakening, or understanding without first possessing the ability to think and see and smell and hear and imagine through observation.
How often is thought unnoticed in a representation by a child? We as adults also need to be observant, and practice this skill, or we might certainly miss something important.
These projects (all projects) and this journey continues. Being observant is in fact a life long journey. But let us celebrate and maybe even see something we did not before through the children and their work.
The Kindergarten children have been on another trajectory. Last year, I noticed how much the then PreK children reveled in transforming themselves. Their stories and play, use of scarves and materials during free-time was complex and innovative. “What if? “I asked mr Jere and Ms. Scofield, “The children designed, created and sewed their own costumes in connection to something in your classrooms?”
So, we brainstormed. Each class has a special story they have been dramatizing in multiple ways. In Jere’s class, it is Chicken Little. In Ms Scofield’s, The Bears on Hemlock Mountain. Using narrative, voice, movement and discussion, each class is deconstructing and acting out literature in a meaningful way.
I invited a costume designer as both a provocation and as an expert. Then, the studio work began:
Henny Penny design by Emma Clare
Carter designed a raccoon costume.
This project is truly challenging. The children not only have to draw themselves as the likeness of a character, but, they have to think about if the design can work realistically as a costume, based on the advice of our specialist Ms. Celestine.
Design for the character named Jonathan by Kiran
Jai designed a Chicken Little costume.
Chicken Little design By Zaire
Foxy Loxy design by Henry
Raccoon costume by Han
Each sketch and rendering offers multiple insights into learning. In the studo and in connection with the classrooms, interdisciplinary and multimodal thinking is intentionally developed.
I am aware, that I have taken on a huge endeavor. Each child will be constructing these costumes…not me and not the parent.
Just like those Black Swallowtail caterpillars I took inside, there is a whole lot of unknown mixed with the known. I am indeed a little nervous. And like I did for those caterpillars, I intend on creating an optimal environment. I also will provide nourishment for growth (the kids are planning, talking, and hands on learning how to sew independently.)
It is my deepest hope mixed with intentional work that those Swallowtail caterpillars that I knew little about in the beginning represent the metaphor needed for the emerging project work- the gradual magic of transformation.