By Marcy Stamper
Art may be the spice of life, but at the Independent Learning Center (ILC) it also flavors subjects such as math, science and history.
With little funding specifically dedicated to art instruction, ILC teachers Kim Odell and Sara Mounsey have leveraged two grants totaling $1,500 for art supplies and drawn on the generosity of half a dozen community members to create an interdisciplinary art program. This year, with the help of volunteer artists with expertise in printmaking, ceramics, woodworking and textile arts, the ILC students have carved and glazed bowls and mugs, made an ancient Viking game, designed logos and learned silk-screen techniques, and made hats and mittens.
The interdisciplinary approach appeals to the students. “They should keep art way more integrated than it is at a regular school,” said ILC freshman Tiva Ward.
The most recent art project, a mosaic that was installed on an exterior wall of the Methow Valley Community Center last week, blends math and science with color theory.
For the mosaic, community member Tracy Sprauer taught the students to draw the flower of life, an ancient geometric form found in the art of many cultures around the world. Deirdre Cassidy, another community member, worked with the students on the mosaic itself.
Learning to draw the geometric design is an exercise that builds in complexity, starting with seven interlocking circles called the seed of life and growing into the flower of life, which is itself the basis for increasingly elaborate patterns.
The students used a regular compass for the initial designs, but had to fashion a large compass from wood and string to draw the model for the mosaic, which is five feet in diameter. After doing the calculations for the larger design, they spread out large sheets of paper on the floor and walked around with their string compass to draw the circles, said Odell.
“Kids love this project—you can draw so many patterns from it,” said Sprauer. “It also requires lots of precision.” As you add circles, you can draw two more at each intersection so that the design expands and becomes more complex, she said.
By coloring different parts of the design, the students brought out a variety of shapes. They ultimately chose senior Nate Mowen’s red, yellow, green and black color scheme for the final mosaic.
The Community Center and Methow Valley Senior Center plan to develop a memory garden and sitting area around the mosaic, which is mounted near the entrance to the gym, said Odell.
Creating the smaller circles and learning to set glass for the mosaic was fun, but the glass fragments were so small that the project started to become drawn out, agreed most students. “Next time, we’ll use bigger glass,” said Odell.
The mosaic is not the only art unit that grew into a school-wide or community project. Earlier this year, the students designed personal logos and collaborated on a logo for the ILC that incorporates the word “alternative” and a mountain lion to tie in with the Liberty Bell High School mascot. They silk-screened the school logo on sweatshirts with Laura Gunnip at the Door No. 3 print arts studio.
Students also worked with other local artists on two ceramics projects—painting bowls for a Room One fundraiser (where they learned about the social-service needs in the community) and carving and glazing cups with artist Emily Post.
Freshman Corydon Goodman was so inspired by the ceramic projects that he joined the school’s college tour last week to check into ceramics programs. “It was fun to do the glazing and see how it came out,” he said.
Other hands-on and interdisciplinary projects include repurposing wool sweaters as hats, mittens and shoulder bags with volunteer Susan Ernsdorff, and learning to tan hides with Katie Russell, who teaches primitive skills and makes buckskin clothing.
“I was really inspired by the tanning process,” said freshman Ward. “We had to get off all the hair, membrane and flesh, and then we brined it with pig’s brain, tea and hot water.” Although “it stinks to high heaven,” Ward said she plans to study other primitive techniques with Russell.
Building the kubb game pieces taught the students history and strategy. Kubb is an old Nordic game often called “Viking chess” that involves wooden batons that are tossed across a playing field to knock down the kubbs.
The kubb exercise grew into a senior project for Mowen, who has teamed up with volunteer teacher Rico Meleski, to learn more woodworking techniques. He is now building boxes, dice and jewelry and researching the possibility of setting up his own wood shop.
Oni Legros, a senior who said she has been drawing as long as she can remember, liked the logo and silk-screen project, although she remains immersed in her main passion — writing and illustrating graphic books in a style reminiscent of Japanese animé. For her senior project, Legros is creating a sophisticated graphic book that shows how fashion has been influenced by social changes over the past two centuries.
Creating lasting art has been satisfying for the students. “It’s kind of awesome that the mosaic will be mounted on the building,” said Ward. “And it makes the teachers proud,” said Odell.
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The Community Center is selling bricks with personalized messages for the memory garden. For more information, contact the Community Center or Carolyn Sullivan at firstname.lastname@example.org.