I was privileged again to be asked back in Monkstown Educate Together Primary School to work with 6th class pupils on their parting gift to the school. This is a well established tradition where every year the children who are leaving to go to secondary school produce a piece of artwork to be remembered by. This project is supported by the Scarlet’s Gift Fund. See http://scarletsfund.com/projects/scarlets-gift/
THE PARTING GIFT The idea behind the Parting Gift is: – to leave something behind that marks a special time in the life of the students and their presence in the school; – to celebrate the uniqueness of that class as a group as well as individuals; – to work intensively over a short space of time, two to three weeks at most, in close collaboration with an artist on a process-led visual art programme and to learn about artists’ working methodologies and creative processes.
This year’s theme was Nature Moves. With artists Robert Connor & Loretta Yurick of Dance Theatre of Ireland the children have been working on a programme that takes nature as a source for exploring and creating dance engaging students physically with their natural environment. I wished to find a visual link with the dance project and the theme of nature so that the children could work individually on a piece of artwork and that each artwork would be part of a whole. I chose to work on the production of an illuminated book in the tradition of medieval manuscripts where the children would design and paint the initial of their own name including elements of nature: trees, plants, animals and humans. These elements would link and merge to form an original and precious image.
“Art is an act of transformation!” I told the children as I invited each one of them to lay on a big piece of paper and bend and twist their body to shape their initial while a partner would draw the outline. Through the adding of natural elements, personal symbols and decorative patterns the children designed a life-size letter.
Over the following couple of weeks the students drew and traced, added some new elements and discarded others making creative choices that led to a final design that was eventually transferred on beautiful ‘Fabriano Artistico’ paper. Each child worked on a double page: on one side they painted their initial with inks, on the other they wrote their name and explained the meaning of it, which they had researched in class. My role was that of a guide with the task of overseeing the work, to make suggestions, show directions all the while reminding them that they were the ‘creatives’ in charge.
IN THE SCRIPTORIUM
As the work progressed we moved from the creative chaos of the classroom to a smaller room where I could work with four students at a time. Here I asked the children to imagine that they were working in the peaceful surrounding of a monastery’s Scriptorium and that we needed to switch to a calmer atmosphere, to focus on the work at hand with patience and some degree of discipline, exactly like medieval monks would have done. At that point my assistant Saoirse pointed out that after all the name of the school was Monkstown ET and so we decided to call the book The Illumination of Monks Town ET.
GOING THE EXTRA MILE
In that room I sat for hours observing the letters being brought to life according to each child’s personality and style; it was like witnessing the natural blossoming of beautiful flowers! Some letters were rich in details that took up the entire page and spilled over the next, while others were more restrained concentrating in the elegance of a simpler form. Again, according to their temperaments, some children spent hours working on their letters while others were being coaxed to ‘go the extra mile’ so that they could see how that extra effort made the difference between something that they were ‘happy enough’ with to something that they were ‘proud of’.
BOOK BINDING AND LOU REED I took all 30 double pages to my studio so that I could bind them into a book. A group of 4 students had designed the cover and illustrated the opening and closing folios so all I had to do was to sew the pages and glue the cover. Little did I know what I was letting myself into! As I painstakingly stitched the pages together following the manual’s directions I struggled to learn the Square Knot and Kettle Stitch; I could feel the tension rising so much that deep breathing and background music became a necessity to help me along. Giving the theme of the day I opted for Gregorian chanting but that only succeeded in aggravating my mood, something more upbeat was called for perhaps on the rock-and-roll wavelength. I chose Lou Reed which did the trick and the book got finished on time.