Tuesday, 27 January 2015

art in a northern town....

Maybe I’ve been spending too much time in Anthropologie™ lately. The antler/animal head motif seems to be everywhere these days.

Where I live, antlers are free and readily available. Shed by all the various deer each winter, they’re a natural found material. And they’re gorgeous. The elegant, curvaceous lines of an antler go a long way towards beating the eveything-is-a-rectangle blues that come from using standard art materials all of the time.

So I had this idea to make mobiles using antlers (or alternatively branches) as the primary structure. In late November I picked up a bunch of transparent plastic Christmas balls — the kind you open up and fill with whatever you want. Over the Christmas holidays, I challenged the kids (and their families) to gather up natural materials that could be stuffed into the ornaments, as well as to find and bring in an antler or a branch.

My list of suggested materials included:

  • seed pods from the garden
  • small twigs
  • fluff from cattails
  • feathers (even ones from inside an old feather pillow)
  • feather boas (preferably white or black, not brightly coloured)
  • small pebbles
  • aquarium gravel (preferably in natural colours)
  • wood shavings (like for a hamster cage)
  • cotton balls
  • bird seed or hamster seed
  • other seeds (popcorn, spices) 
  • small cinnamon sticks, cut into pieces
  • salt
  • small dried flowers (such as lavender)
  • small wooden beads
  • raffia
  • twine
  • wool (natural colours)
  • cotton string
  • egg shells (clean)
  • sand
  • small sea shells

Then I added a request for pinecones or larger feathers to hang between the ornaments.

Before we assembled the materials we did a lot of sorting and classifying. We talked about natural vs. manufactured materials, plant vs. animal materials, and living vs. nonliving materials. We talked about the sources of all of our materials. Then the kids stuffed their Christmas ornaments with the materials they had brought, which took about 5 minutes.

I then spent an entire Sunday afternoon tying and hanging and hot-gluing and assembling the mobiles.

And that is where this project failed. Because kids’ art projects should be made primarily by kids. I teach Grade One, and there is often a measure of adult assistance required. But when I’m doing the vast majority of the work, it’s no longer theirs anymore.

Every year it seems like I do this to myself at least once. I get so excited about the end product that I completely lose sight of the process. I dream up something that ends up being way too much work for the adults involved and way too little challenge for the kids.

So would I do this project again? Maybe with a Grade Four or Five or Six class (who could tie their own knots, and solve for themselves the problems of visual and actual balance and movement that mobiles present), but not with Grade Ones.

But do the antler mobiles look great in my classroom and make me happy?

Why, yes. Yes they do.

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