Art skills, life skills: There is a lovely turquoise block print of a headshot of what appears to be a heron standing along the shore of a body of water in the current art show on the walls of the cafe at Rising Tide Co-op in Damariscotta. It is an attention-getter – and it was created by a student in a fifth and sixth grade class at Chewonki Elementary and Middle School in Wiscasset as part of a printmaking unit focused on coastal Maine’s salt-marsh ecology.
Other prints in the printmaking section of the show include a multicolor leaf print and yet another striking heron print, this one in a rich caramel color and featuring the whole bird.
The show’s other two sections – one titled “Farm Study” and one on scientific drawing – offer artwork by kids in grades one through three, and in grade eight, respectively.
There is a very appealing large framed piece in the “Farm Study” section made up of six separate smaller pieces, each apparently fashioned from sheep fleece, some of it dyed bright colors. Each of the six sections of this piece pictures a flower, one with the sun shining on it, and each seems to be a study in felting. It is a nice idea to use the wool of a farm animal to represent the flora that might grow on that same farm.
The project description for the scientific drawings – featuring many finely drawn insects and leaves – reads as follows: “Students learn about the history of scientific drawings, explore various artists, and develop skills for drawing from observations related to their ecology tree study,” with the essential question students must ask themselves, it says, being “What do I see?”
Now, one might think this is a relatively simple question – and it is – but it is also, commendably, a question put to these art students that encourages them to slow down and really observe all of the details of what they are looking at. It is a skill that many adults would do well to acquire or brush up on.
The question “What do I see?” encourages mindfulness – a necessary quality to have if one wishes to draw well, and also if one wants to live well in the world. Indeed, art education can provide life lessons.
A set of “provoking questions,” as the project description puts it, was also given to these students. First and foremost: “How do I look/observe more deeply?” This takes mindfulness a step further.
Other questions delved into acquiring technique (for example, “How can I represent texture?”) and thinking about the importance of pen/pencil-to-paper drawing skills in a world dominated by technology.
It is no wonder that, with this sort of thoughtful teaching, these students produced such good work. For instance, one drawing of a striped caterpillar (names are not included on pieces, by the way, but participating students are listed on each section’s project description) is superb, and notable for its high level of realism.
The Chewonki art show runs through Tuesday, March 31.
Rising Tide Co-op is located at 323 Main St., Damariscotta.
Chewonki Elementary and Middle School, located in Wiscasset, is online at elementary.chewonki.org.
(Christine LaPado-Breglia is an award-winning journalist who has written about the arts in both California and Maine. Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org or write her a letter in care of The Lincoln County News, P.O. Box 36, Damariscotta, ME 04543.)