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Teacher Newsmagazine Volume 16, Number 5, April 2004

Beyond the chalkboard: Into nature’s sphere

"Armed with forks, tacks, and welders’ brushes, my art class stared down at our newest assignment. The anticipation of challenge gleaming in our eyes was reflected back at us. Our mission was to fashion a flashy alphabet to exhibit in our school."

– Brianna Grove-White, student

by Thora O’Grady, Mary Howard, and Lily Wallace

Creative opportunities surround us, and often the very best ideas happen over coffee. Sitting in the relaxed atmosphere of a local restaurant, I noticed the menu was creatively presented on a chalkboard. This provided me with the inspiration to have the students use their boundless creativity to produce not only unique art pieces, but also a book of postcards.

Recycling provides many of the materials used in art classes at Cedar Hill Junior Secondary in Victoria. Finding old chalkboards was not difficult. However, on the back of each board, was a wonderful surprise. The bright metallic surface begged to be used as the medium for our project: creating an alphabet and numbers series entitled "Beyond the Chalkboard."

Searching for other materials was a great adventure: treasures were found in thrift stores, garage sales, hardware stores, junk piles, and donations solicited through the school newsletter. Then, designing began with the students playing, decorating and embellishing their names, and selecting letters or numbers. This provided the opportunity to explore the elements of design. Students can readily design on paper, but could they work in 3D? First they make small cardboard models of their chosen work. Now they were ready to move forward on a larger scale.

The metal materials were fun to work with: jewelry, ribbons, chains, and nails. Wire brushes and nails were used to draw, instead of pencils and pens. Mistakes could not be erased, so they had to be changed using new and creative problem-solving techniques. These presented a very different way of thinking and being creative.

Each class marked the beginning of new discoveries. Look what happens when you change the direction of your wire brush stokes or when you change the depth of the pressure of the tool you are using. Amazing images started to appear!

Then someone just happened to ask if we had any artwork for display. That was the beginning. Three exhibitions followed: an opening event at the Chris Doman Gallery in Saanichton, the Oak Bay library, and Goo Goo Goggles Optical (a business in Victoria).

Display banners advertising the art exhibitions became the inspiration for Lauraine Derman’s Grade 3 students at Willow Elementary School. The students were immersed in a community-based environmental studies program, which focussed on ecological responsibility, researching the plight of three locally endangered species, and raising funds for their cause. Their whimsical and insightful poems, about recycling, which occurs in nature, became an important and complementary part of the exquisite postcard book.

Often the public is unaware of what happens in the creative departments of most schools, so how can we get such a positive message out there?

How can we help people become more aware of the potential and success there is within each and every student?

A book was then in the works. Hermann Edler, book designer and graphic artist, suggested bringing the children’s poetry and artwork together. All the elements fell into place and the book was off to the printers.

Thora O’Grady, Mary Howard and Lily Wallace teach at Cedar Hill Junior Secondary School, Victoria.

Images of Numbers and Alphabet, A Book of 36 Postcards by Lily Wallace & Hermann Edler, ISBN 0-9734290-0-3

For more information go to www.sd61.bc.ca/school/cedarhill or e-mail wallacelily@shaw.ca.

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