(By Teaching Artist Eliot Fintushel: his 12th year teaching improvisation in San Ramon’s Second Grade!)
In our sessions together, the 2nd Graders at San Ramon School have finally learned to be careful not to crush underfoot all those tiny 1st Graders we find scattered around the Music Room floor like ants at a picnic. We carefully, gently pick them up between our thumb and forefinger and put them outside the door to return to their own classrooms. I mean, sheesh! The things a 2nd Grader has to put up with! Then we practice flying and throwing sound balls and wearing the most exotic masks. (See above.) And, although everybody promises only to fly over Marin County and not to wave to people in airplanes, truth to tell, NOBODY complies, and all havoc breaks loose in the Upper Shnookosphere!!!!!
We have started our 8-week visual arts unit at Laurel Dell Elementary, during which we are making Carnival costumes and learning about Carnival traditions around the world. Each class is a “crew” or a “band,” and the students chose their own crew themes. All the costumes will be made from some form of paper, and include found and recycled materials. Some crews are making masks of various kinds, and others are making headdresses, and also paper capes or vests.
This Spring, the 4th and 5th Grade students at Laurel Dell made animal hybrid masks. The process took some work! First, students researched and sketched a mask design. Next, they molded the mask in clay. After a thick coat of petroleum jelly, the masks were carefully covered in strips of plaster, and left to harden. Finally, after being released from the clay molds, the plaster masks were then painted and adorned with fake fur or feathers to bring out their animal features.
After making a series of paper masks, the K-3 student artists had room for a quick, one-day project. I switched it up…instead of a mask, we made a Super Hero Power Hat, which we pretended would give the wearer a special ability, such as flight or invisibility. The students had a lot of fun constructing and embellishing this special headgear!
Mentor Artist Katy Bernheim worked with the Seventh Graders at Hall Middle School to transform 2-dimensional pieces of railroad board and a collection of beads, feathers, fabric, leather and paint into traditionally-inspired, 3-dimensional African masks.
The unit began with a slide show of traditional African masks. Along with the images, students discussed the many uses of masks in our culture, and how that compares to traditional, West African cultures. They looked at slides of masks celebrating coming of age rituals, death ceremonies and agricultural celebrations, among others. Students discussed ideas and symbols of beauty and power. The students noted patterns and colors, shapes and motifs.
With a collection of actual African masks, students were able to touch, see and hear (the raffia on one makes a lovely wooshing noise as it swirls through the air, like it would when it is danced). Armed with these images, ideas and experiences, the students launched into transforming the paper into large, vibrant masks.
Through a series of cuts, folds and overlaps, students were guided to shape the railroad board into mask-like shapes, securing them with staples and hot glue. They fastened raffia to the masks with girth hitches or staples. They used their knowledge and observations from the slides and masks to embellish their artwork with geometric patterns and a multitude of textures.
Students also faced the problems of form: “How can I make a cylindrical elephant trunk that bends, and attach it to the middle of the curved surface of the mask?” “How can I make a hat to sit on top of my mask?” “How can I keep the horns from flopping over?” “What is the best way to keep this on my face if I want most of the mask to rise up higher than the top of my head?”
For Katy, the magic of this project lies in the transformation from 2-D to 3-D, of students animatedly affixing embellishments to their masks and discussing what kind of character their mask will be, of active engagement in the subject matter. One student cried, “Now I get it!” For Katy, that said it all.
“There are two ways of spreading light: to be the candle or the mirror that reflects it.” – Edith Wharton
On October 26, 2010 a group of Bayside School K students and a group of Bayside School 5th grade students came together as collaborative forces.
The 5th graders have been mentors for the K students, and they have been partnered up.
Today was the first day they were given the opportunity to come together as artists.
Ms. Banks, the K teacher, has introduced the word DISGUISE to her students.
What does it mean to be in disguise?
How does it make you feel to be in disguise?