Playground of Color
"It’s an awesome way to make a child feel important…successful," remarked Robin Hire. She was describing A Playground of Color, the elementary school art exhibit at the Johnson-Humrickhouse Museum. As Robin walked around the exhibition with her family during the artists’ reception on February 6th, she exuded enthusiasm. Of course, Robin is not an impartial observer. Not only does she teach art at Plainfield and Fresno, but also two of her daughters, students at West Lafayette, had works on display.
Daughter Lauren, a first grader, described her drawing. The assignment was to draw a tree with birdfeeders hanging from it, and grass in the foreground. Using pencil, crayon and paint, she created a lively fall scene, the birdfeeders swaying in the wind and a bold yellow sun brightening up every blade of grass. Lauren likes to draw because it makes her feel happy. Her older sister, second grader Madeline, expressed joy and confidence as she described her picture created with crayon and attached cutout shapes made from construction paper. She composed a coral reef with starfish, clown fish, sea horse and a vine of seaweed that had "grown" up and beyond the picture itself. Since she was three years old, Madeline has been creating artwork. Her early studies were of Jesus. She likes art because it keeps her from getting bored and makes her feel good.
Many children responded like Madeline when asked why they liked doing art. Morgan Unger, a West Lafayette second grader who also loves to dance, said she enjoys doing art because it makes her feel excited. Keene third grader, Alex Wheeler who feels he draws well, said it made him feel great. Jantzen Allen keeps a drawing journal and especially likes drawing robots. This was not his first exhibited work. He had a piece exhibited in the Coshocton County Fair last year. Jantzen, a fourth grader at West Lafayette, also directs his love for drawing in practical ways, recently creating a birthday card for his grandmother.
Jarett Hocter, a third grader from Conesville, likes to do artistic things because "it gets out the things in his head that he wants to do." Jarett’s art teacher, Jan Zurowski, assigned the students to paint a picture of flowers in a vase, using sponges instead of brushes. The vase had to be as tall as one-half the paper size. Jarett’s still life has the feeling of an Impressionist painting—lots of color and sensuality. He is learning technique, but notice where his mind is. The job of the artist is to express thoughts, images and feelings that bump around in his/her head but are not as easily or fully expressed by words.
Several children wanted to comment on the exhibit itself. They found it "crazy," "colorful" and "fun." Dave and Kathy Arnold of West Lafayette were enjoying the reception with their three children, Jonathan (who had a very cute purple pig on display), Nathan and Hannah. The brothers talked about their favorite pieces—the dragon and copper bas reliefs. Pre-schooler Hannah liked the masks and flowers. Kathy and Dave try to attend this exhibit each year. Not only is it entertaining, but the color and the diversity of artwork is fascinating.
Elementary students throughout the county look forward to this exhibit. Robin Hire stated that every year students ask about it… "Will my picture be in it, Mrs. Hire?" She said it is a good incentive and a great way to open their eyes to other people’s artwork. Also, she loves to see her students at the reception since not only are they looking at the elementary art exhibit, but also walking around the whole museum with their families, seeing art from around the world.
Marian Wright Edelman founder and president of Children’s Defense Fund, states, "We must meet the needs of the whole child …Children do not come in pieces. They live in families and communities." Besides the basic needs of nutrition, family and healthcare, children have needs to explore, imagine, create, play and learn. Participating in art is terrific way to meet those needs. Exhibiting their artwork in a museum environment is a wonderful way to make it a family and community experience. As Edelman proposes, we are responsible to meet the needs of the whole child. They are "the seeds and the molders of history and the transmitters of our values…." For our own community’s and our culture’s sake, let’s nurture our young people with art. These experiences are priceless.