Art classes give kids outlet for creativity

Posted: Wednesday, April 21, 2004

They're pretty, silly, quirky.

Mountain View Elementary School students have spent the last three weeks creating hats of their own design with artist in residence Shala Dobson. And while the hats are as diverse as the students who thought up their designs, they all have one thing in common: They are art.

That's the whole point of the Artist in Schools program, which is administered by the Alaska State Council on the Arts and funded by the Alaska State Legislature, the National Endowment for the Arts and area parent-teacher associations.

The program offers schools grants to bring in professional artists for two- to three-week periods, offering unique art instruction for students who may not otherwise get to use their creative juices.

"(Art) is the soul of a program," said Dobson, an Anchorage-based sculpture. "When schools are just regular subjects, they lose the basic thing that glues it all together."

Dobson traditionally participates in two or three AIS programs a year. This year, for example, she worked at Kenai's Mountain View Elementary, as well as two schools elsewhere in the state.

While she tries to vary the programs she offers based on the individual school and the year, all her lessons have one thing in common: "I just show them the techniques, and they use their own creative ideas. Art is a common language."

These past few weeks at Mountain View Elementary, Dobson has been showing students the basics of creating hats. She brought in hats from a variety of eras and cultures and discussed with students the different reasons a person might create a hat, from aesthetic value to warmth to sun protection.

The students then had to draw their design idea and make a list of the materials needed to create their hats. Next, they went to the "marketplace" to pick up a "base" an existing hat that would be transformed into something new as well as supplies such as fabric scraps, pipecleaners, yarn and even some toys.

Using tacky glue, hot glue guns (under the watchful eyes of parent volunteers) and some sewing machine help from Dobson, students then created their vision over three one-hour classes with Dobson.

In their last class, the students returned to the business theme, drawing a sketch of their hat and writing advertising copy to identify the selling points of their design.

For example, the hat Dobson made a red baseball cap highlighted with bright green, yellow and blue Legos served as a silly, bright head decoration.

Carolyn Knackstedt's dress hat boasted a fancy design and perfect fit.

The fifth-grader is no stranger to design, making pillows at home, and decided she wanted a pretty hat that fit her head exactly.

"I used fake fur for the top, and some other material I used almost as a headband," she said.

She also added a flower on the front and some sequin and lace trim to add sparkle.

"I just like making things out of material," she said.

Saul Grimsley used two different types of fabric and Dobson's sewing help to create a reversable hat.

"I just kind of wanted a funny hat, not really tall or really small, just medium," he said.

"I'm thinking of calling it 'Orange Sea," he added, noting the title derived from the sea turtle-orange fabric combination.

Ponchy Rodriguez was going for an even sillier creation with his hat. Originally a straw sunhat, Ponchy's touch added blue leather fringe and a pile of red yarn creating a "mop."

"I like that you get to make your own hat, use the stuff you find instead of just having directions," he said. "You get to make what you think looks nice."

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