The stories inside books can be magical things and inspire flights of mind-expanding imagination for children. But the physical books themselves can be just as special.
For two weeks, Sears Elementary School in Kenai is hosting Susan Share under the Artists in Schools program. Share specializes in book art -- making the carrier of words into a sculptural statement of its own.
Thursday, she guided a group of second-graders through making wall hangings with colored paper, yarn, glue and beads. To complete the work, the children had to spell out their names, think of other words that started with the letters of their names and draw pictures.
"The kids are having a ball," said teacher Barb Ralston.
Sears librarian Laurie Cowgill arranged for Share to come to the school for a brief residency last year. It was such as success, she invited her back for a longer time this year.
"We feel really blessed to have her here," Cowgill said. "This residence, more than some of them, is very tied into the curriculum."
The school, which teaches kindergarten through second grade, does not have a full-time visual arts teacher on staff, although most classrooms include some art as part of the regular instruction. It relies on the statewide visiting artists' program not only to enrich classes with special projects, but also to instruct the teachers and parents. The schools Parent Teacher Association raises money to fund the program through its activity nights, she said.
The Alaska State Council on the Arts sends schools a list each year with information about available artists.
"We saw this bookmaker person who looked interesting," Cowgill said. "She is a true, making-a-living artist."
Share has an impressive resume. She is a leader in book art, whose works have been exhibited throughout the United States and even in Britain. She combines bookbinding skills with sculpture and theater, going beyond passive displays to incorporate her pieces in performances. Reviewers have called her work innovative, imaginative and exciting.
She finds children refreshing to work with and loves to watch them draw. Their enthusiasm, intensity and pride in the finished product makes working with them fun, Share said.
Making their own books gives children a major sense of accomplishment and a new way of looking at other books. It also inspires them to write and draw.
"It is really kind of the perfect learning tool," she said.
Share spent many years living in New York City. She was involved in the arts scene and artists in the schools projects there before her husband's work brought them to Alaska. She now lives in Anchorage, where she has been teaching at the University of Alaska and in schools. Recently she had a solo show in Homer.
Sears is the first school she has worked with in the Kenai Peninsula district.
"This school is the best school to work with," she said. "The teachers here are fabulous."
The teachers are just as enthusiastic about her and the visiting artists program.
Second-grade teacher Nancy Lafferty is one of the school's arts boosters. She has been working with visiting artists for a generation.
Susan Share, visiting Sears Elementary School last week through the Artists in the Schools program, showed second graders such as Trevva Middaugh how to use their names in an art project.
Photo by SHANA LOSHBAUGH
The Artists in the Schools program brings in "real" artists, she said.
"They have a different view of the world. Each one offers something different," she said.
The artists build excitement and hope and inspire kids, Lafferty said. Often they manage to interest families who have not been involved with the school otherwise.
"They often draw out children who have not had a chance to shine," she said.
Lafferty said Share is one of those people who has that creative rapport with the children.
"When she started talking, their eyes lit up," she said.
Share is working with three classes a day at Sears. The varied projects include pop-up books, paper quilts and accordion boxes. She will remain at the school through Friday.
Artists in Schools is a program of the Alaska State Council on the Arts with funding support from the Alaska State Council on the Arts with funding support from the Alaska State Legislature and the National Endowment for the Arts, a federal agency. Additional funding is being provided by the Sears Elementary School PTA.
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