Whidbey Island artist-in-residence program has everything but money

Local artist Gordon Edberg shows South Whidbey Elementary Student Liam DiLorenzo a trick of the trade during an artist-in-residence session in the classroom.

Local artist Faye Castle walked into the classroom and stacked up her sketchbooks in front of the students who were gathered around her on the floor.

“The more you do sketchbooks, the more you know about what things look like,” Castle said.

“I get to collect little things, like I do when I’m walking down the beach,” Castle said. “I use my imagination. It’s like getting this great library in your head. I’m never bored when I have my sketchbook,” she added.

The students watched with rapt attention as she turned the pages of several little black books. They were dying to talk about their own explorations of the world. Their teacher gently told them to hold their questions for later. Castle continued with the story of her artistic journal of life.

“You can copy your own drawings, or scan them and make them into cards for your grandparents,” she told them. “They will love it.”

Castle was invited to Val Twomey’s 2-3 grade classroom at South Whidbey Elementary School by artist-in-residence Gordon Edberg. Edberg, another local artist, has been working with students through the Arts in Education program sponsored by the Whidbey Island Arts Council.

It’s a program championed by council board member Frank Rose, who first created the idea to assist Whidbey Island public schools in teaching art to students in grades K-12. With the recent spate of budget cuts in the South Whidbey School District, Rose sees the program as one that is urgently needed.

In Twomey’s classroom, after Castle finished showing the students her richly illustrated sketchbooks, she put a tangerine on the overhead and showed them how to look at the shape of it. She pointed out the imperfections of the tangerine’s circular shape, and told them to look closely at an object and its lines before putting their pencils to paper.

Edberg took his turn as the students returned to their desks, where art supplies were waiting for them.

Edberg said that what he noticed most about his time in the classroom is the change in the students.

“I most notice that the kids have growing confidence to try — to dive in and draw or paint their idea as stimulated by the subject we’re studying,” he said.

“Any fear of using strong color is gone,” he added.   “And most use line better in developing their paintings.”

Edberg brought out a number of abalone shells. Twomey and Edberg talked a little about the scientific aspects of the shells and how they fit into the ecosystem. Edberg pointed out the convex, rounded and oval varieties of shape in the shells and how it is “ear-shaped.”

The students hovered over their sketchpads with pencils in hand, anticipating the moment when Edberg would bring the shells to them to draw.

Edberg talked about the iridescent color of the abalone and how it varies from species to species. Some are silvery white, to pink, red and greenish-red, while others show predominantly deep blues, greens and purples he told them.

When the time came to draw the shells, the students passed them around in groups. Edberg moved among them, helping with paints and brushes; showing them the tricks of his trade.

The artists-in-residence program was initiated in the South Whidbey School District, but the plan is to expand into the Coupeville and Oak Harbor school districts. This program strives to provide students and teachers with hands-on arts experiences through personal interaction with a professional artist, such as these visual artists. But the program has a full roster of other professionals in the areas of music, theater, bookbinding and graphic design, among other mediums, all ready to go. But funding is needed.

On Friday, June 1 and Saturday, June 2, the second annual Whidbey Festival of the Arts will take place at South Whidbey High School. It is the main fundraiser of the artists-in-residence program.

This year’s festival will be considerably expanded over last year’s event. In addition to student art displays and art demonstrations throughout the new and old commons spaces, the parking area in front of the auditorium will house 40 arts and crafts booths, six food vendors and an outdoor stage featuring continuous entertainment hosted by emcee Jim Freeman.

The idea is to raise the funds needed for the artists-in-residence program, which pays the artists for their work in the classrooms, collaborating with teachers and their lesson plans. The goal is to integrate the arts within the core curriculum.

Gov. Chris Gregoire announced that May is Arts in Education Month. To find out more about the goals and needs for the artist-in-residence program visit www.islandartscouncil.org.

Look for an upcoming story about the Whidbey Island Festival of the Arts in the Record.