Arts and Entertainment

South Whidbey elementary students show art at family-fun event tomorrow

Elementary school student Ellie Thompson practices basket-weaving in a kindergarten art docent led art session.  - Photo courtesy of Betsy Gmerek
Elementary school student Ellie Thompson practices basket-weaving in a kindergarten art docent led art session.
— image credit: Photo courtesy of Betsy Gmerek

The seeds of artistic nourishment that were sowed in the fall are now in full bloom at the elementary school. And the community is welcome to come and see what these young artists have produced.

South Whidbey Elementary School students have been working year-round creating art inspired by volunteer docents and teachers who are passionate about teaching young people what they know.

Much of the art will be on display at the 12th annual South Whidbey Elementary Student Art Exhibition. The show is 5:30 to 8:30 p.m. Thursday, June 3 at the school in Langley.

Sponsored by the South Whidbey PTA’s art docent program, the exhibit features a maze of creative variety. Student-made solar systems, fused-glass tiles, painted still lifes, hand-dyed batiks and even a large-format mural will be just some of what will be displayed by students in kindergarten through fifth grade for everyone’s pleasure.

The evening will also include an interactive exploration of the gallery in which students will find clues to record in passports as they “travel the world of visual art” in a scavenger hunt of sorts. A giant collaborative mandala will be built by gallery visitors using material provided by organizers and, outside, families and friends can enjoy a barbeque dinner cooked up by Kiwanis members complete with burgers, veggie burgers, hot dogs and refreshments.

Organizers and art docents Betsy Gmerek and Eva Bister Gibson said the event is a culmination of an extremely productive program.

Gmerek said the passion of the parent/teacher association — combined with a community that embraces the idea of spreading the wealth of artistic talent that prevails here — is a potent recipe for inspiration. She recalled the students’ sessions with volunteer docent Cary Jurriaans, a painter and the founder of the Whidbey Island Fine Arts Studio in Langley.

“It makes a world of difference to see what the kids — even in first grade — can grasp when being taught things such as how to paint still lifes; to see what they learn about light, shade, shapes, etc.,” Gmerek said.

The effort extends far beyond a single show, however.

“Our long-term vision is to use local artists in this way to make the teaching of art a more systematic part of the curriculum,” she said.

This integration of art and scholarship is evident throughout the exhibit in work, such as the baskets that were made by Susan Milan’s kindergarten/first grade class. The basket-making followed a classroom visit by native American flutist and storyteller Joe Arnold, who played hand-made flutes and told the class stories from the Native American tradition. (Arnold will perform at the event along with violist Kat Fritz and her young string players.)

Following his visit, the art docent led the class in traditional American basket weaving, a project that reinforced what the children had heard in the music and stories Arnold had performed.

Along with a historical and geographical background learned through making much of the art, the students also received invaluable technical training.

“The students see the technical result of what can come from using different materials,” Bister Gibson said.

Working together on larger art projects can also be a lesson in diplomacy.

Gmerek worked with students to create a giant mural of animals after the famous muralist Edward Hicks’ work, “Peaceable Kingdom.”

Gmerek said that not only did the students have to learn about perspective and the fact that images of the smaller painted animals would be in the background of the painting, but they also had to work democratically together to decide where to put the images in the mural.

“I told them they had to work it out together. The process was really great,” she said.

Gmerek also was pleased that the docent program brings in all generations of artists to work with students. She mentioned a husband-and-wife team of Charlotte and Dick Henke, a local retired couple, who worked with the children to create gargoyles during their study of the medieval period in Bruce Callahan’s fourth/fifth-grade classroom.

Charlotte Henke, who is a professional architect by trade, said she wasn’t expecting much when she showed up at the beginning of the year.

“These students are wonderful,” Henke said.

“We spent last fall on the history of architecture, showing the students slides, and I was flabbergasted by what they knew. ‘Oh, that’s Ephesus! My grandparents just got back from there,’ one of them said. They were so smart,” she said.

Along with a study of architecture and the medieval period, the Henkes also covered the Renaissance.

Students created individual pieces, as well as one huge papier mache gargoyle which will be one of the surprises of the exhibit.

The Student Art Exhibition is the culmination of a year’s productivity of the students, as well as a measure of the generous artistic spirit that is evident in the hard work of the numerous teachers, parents and artists, who expend much effort to make the program a meaningful part of the school experience.

In addition to the all-local barbecue dinner ($5 per meal), the fifth-grade students will hold a “Pay-It-Forward Bake Sale” during the art gallery night to raise money so future fifth-grade students can participate in art-docent sponsored field trips.

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