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Mentoring Creativity

Bronze sculptor Lynn Swanson guides Martha-Rocio Gil-Osorio, a student with the Art Mentor Program of the South Whidbey Community Engagement Center, through a lesson in chasing wax in preparation for bronze pouring. - Cynthia Woolbright
Bronze sculptor Lynn Swanson guides Martha-Rocio Gil-Osorio, a student with the Art Mentor Program of the South Whidbey Community Engagement Center, through a lesson in chasing wax in preparation for bronze pouring.
— image credit: Cynthia Woolbright

After many long hours of wait — weeks, months even — Martha-Rocio Gil-Osorio couldn’t wait to meet her new friend.

She couldn’t wait to introduce him to the person who’d helped make his creation possible.

Looking down, Gil-Osorio, 15, of Clinton was all smiles.

“See? Isn’t he great?,” she said.

In her hand was the heavy heave of bronze.

Say hello to her little friend, a bronze turtle with one hand, er, claw in the air. It stands with almost as big of a smile as Gil-Osorio’s herself.

The tiny creature was crafted by Gil-Osorio, with the help of her good friend and art mentor Lynn Swanson. The partnership between the student and artist was made possible through the Artist Mentor Program at the South Whidbey Community Engagement Center.

But when given the opportunity to work in bronze, why did Martha-Rocio Gil-Osorio create a turtle?

“I love them,” Gil-Osorio almost exclaims. “I collect them and have them all over my room.”

The tiny, bronze amphibian figure’s days of creation began when Gil-Osorio first met Swanson last April. They met with each other only a few days a week, a few hours each day, but that was enough.

The first task was to build a clay sculpture which would be the base for every step of her bronze sculpture. It was a perfect starting task for the petite brunette.

“I’m interested in art in general, but I really wanted to work with someone who did sculpture. And bronze is even cooler,” Gil-Osorio said.

From that, a mother mold of ceramic-like material lined with rubber was made. After that, Gil-Osorio poured a wax form of her clay turtle, which she then learned how to chase around — actually she chased the wax, a term bronze sculptors use for tidying up and refining the wax sculpture.

“It has to be perfect because what you have in wax is what you’ll get in bronze,” Lynn Swanson said. “It forces you to be patient and have a meticulous eye for detail, which I think Martha-Rocio has.”

Swanson knows what it takes to be that patient bronze artist. She’s been a sculptor for over 25 years and has worked in bronze for the last five.

During the time Swanson worked with the student, she allowed Martha-Rocio to get hands on in the daily operation of Swanson’s bronze foundry.

“I felt it was my job as a mentor to give her the tools to be creative, and not just show her how I did things,” Swanson said.

From the wax form, Martha-Rocio then had to encase the wax turtle in the ceramic mother mold. She even poured her own hot, molten metal out of a small crucible.

“She’s so tiny you could barely see her under all that gear we had her wearing,” Swanson said.

Gil-Osorio fired the final patina on the turtle in mid-August.

“When she wasn’t working on her own projects she was helping chase wax, and polish bronze as well as other tasks,” Swanson said.

“This is a powerful way for students to feel connected to the community through the bonds and friendships they form with these artists,” said Art Mentor founder Diana Shirley.

In addition to the 10 students who studied art with mentors in fields from the culinary arts to paintings, sculpting and the theater arts, other students also participated in the Art Mentor program’s fieldtrips which included going on the Seattle Open Studio Tour.

The goals of the Art Mentor Program, according to Shirley, are:

• To build positive relationships between students and adult mentors.

• To provide an alternative to traditional classroom learning.

• To provide new tools for self-expression and to give artists the opportunity to share skills and to have an impact on a young person’s life.

“It’s been proven when kids have success in one area of their life that it extends into other areas — attendance at school improves, etc. — with a lot of school funding for programs such as the arts dropping off, we can fill that need for kids,” Shirley said.

Shirley, a staff member at the South Whidbey Community Engagement Center, conceptualized the program based on the memories of how art was a part of her life during her youth.

“Our community is so rich with artists it’s a nice way to connect kids with that community and to give them an opportunity to work side-by-side with someone in a form of expressing themselves,” she said.

Painter Rob Schouten mentored Josh Hagen, a Bayview student interested in graffiti art.

For Hagen, the program went a little deeper than learning new art skills and forming mentor bonds.

“The thought of being labeled as an artist has forever posed as a dream — so beautiful and bright, that to wake from it would mean entering a limbo fueled by self-judgment and doubt,” he said.

Shortly after the program ended for the school year, in Hagen’s program statement he said: “Up until two weeks ago I was dead certain that my dream was never bound for reality, when by some great series of circumstances, and loving support and string pulling from friends and Bayview staff, I was honored to meet renowned artist Rob Schouten.”

In a project reflection statement, Heather Mathiason, a student who worked with glass sculptor Natalie Hahn, said: “Working with Natalie, I was inspired to try my own ideas and inspiration from watching her work. I love coming here after school and making all the fun stuff she teaches me.”

Students become involved in the Art Mentor program through counselor or staff member referral.

Engaging these students in art has a measurable impact on youth, Shirley said.

“Another, perhaps more valuable side of creativity, is that meditative state that researchers call ‘flow’ that one reaches when completely engaged and fully absorbed in the task at hand,” Shirley said. “Children go there so naturally but I think we all need it.”

Shirley said earlier this week that it is still uncertain if grant funding can be secured to continue the Art Mentor program this school year. But she remains optimistic and is still searching for ways to keep the program going.

This year she hopes to establish more artist-student matches and do training where previous artist mentors can show new mentors the ropes.

“There is something very satisfying about having an idea and then seeing it come into fruition,” Shirley said. “It is that same sense of accomplishment that can sometimes give students a jump start and the encouragement that can transfer into confidence in seeking success in other areas of life as well.”

And the best part of the program?

One happy, little, waving turtle has a new home.

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