Another Day in the Country
I am an artist
© Another Day in the Country
Art classes started in the middle of August at Centre Elementary, and I decided to do a project with the children that I’d done only once before — and that was years ago.
Each child is making his or her first initial into a 14-inch high, 3-inch deep, standalone letter (We may have to do a little work to get them to stand alone, but oh, well.) with cardboard, Dixie cup baffles, and lots of packing tape.
Then comes the difficult part: finding pictures, letters, or words in magazines that we can paste on the surface to represent activities they like, food they like to eat, things they do, dreams they have, what they are good at, and pets they have or wish they had. You get the idea.
It’s not an easy project, but the end result is an artifact, a record of a moment in time for the rest of this child’s life. It’s the first initial we are working on — their first name, which usually is pretty permanent.
Our ratio of adult helpers to children in the classroom is about one to four. The project includes hunting, choosing, cutting, ripping, and gluing skills.
We have an hour. You can imagine the frenzy in the room even as we try to corral the chaos and move forward.
At the end of the day, three classes done, I haul myself home and collapse on my bed, too tired to eat.
Eventually, I’m up again, thinking about next week.
I re-organize supplies, find more magazines, rip out pages in advance, refill glue bottles, and laugh remembering turning around in the classroom and finding one of the kids with no glue on the cardboard initial but both hands covered in glue.
“Never doing this project again,” I laugh to myself. “Next, we’ll just draw.”
For all the years I’ve taught art at Centre, we’ve had a mantra that we say every day at the end of art class.
“What are you?” I ask the children, and they answer, “I am an artist.”
No matter what kind of chaos has occurred in the classroom, no matter what was spilled or whether glue ever got to its intended spot, no matter how discouraged I am, or they are, we still say it: “I am an artist.” Eventually, they will believe it.
No one in my family ever dreamed I would be an artist. Back in the day, art wasn’t a valued profession even though there were quite a few artistic types in the Schubert linage.
By the time I even entertained the idea of being artistic, I had a whole lot of other titles. I was a woman, a wife, a secretary, a writer, a good cook, a housekeeper, and a mother — to name a few.
There wasn’t a lot of opportunity to do art, let alone admit that you were good at it.
How would my life have been different if I’d dared to dream, or even knew, that I was an artist early on?
The good news is that art in life can take so many forms. Perhaps if you realize that you are an artist early in the game, you’ll be able to delight more fully in what form your artistry makes — supper, for one thing.
A week or so ago, my sister (who is my sidekick in the classroom) was standing in line at a local dollar store and saw a young woman in front of her who looked familiar and turned back toward her.
“Do I know you? It seems like we’ve meet somewhere,” Jess said.
“Are you Pat or Jess? I can’t remember,” the gal answered, “You taught me in art class at Centre.”
By some miracle, Jess recalled her name.
“You are Amber, aren’t you?”
“Yes, and because of your art class, my life was changed,” she blurted out. “I got my degree in graphic design and I work in that field, now.”
You can imagine how excited we were with that little encounter. Every once in awhile, we meet the grown-up version of one of our children from the lower grades and hear a story like this.
One day, I was sitting in a dental office and discovered the new doctor was one of our former art students. Her artistic talent was keeping her patients’ smiles beautiful.
I brought all of those decorated initials home last week. They are spread out on my table. I’m coating them with Modge Podge to preserve this moment in my artists’ young lives.
“Do you know who Snoop Dog is,” one of my fourth grade boys asked me last week as we pasted his pictures down.
I assured him I did.
“Do you like his music?” he then wanted to know.
I said I didn’t.
“Neither do my parents,” he said, “my grandpa either.”
He grinned mischievously.
“But I do! And I like his tennis shoes.”
“Yes, Snoop Dog’s an artist,” I admitted, “and so are you!”
It was just another day in the country, Modge Podged initials all over my kitchen, when my sister called and told me who she’d seen at the store. She’d seen the future, and it made my day!