as told by our favorite Art Coach, Bruce Hucko
Africa, The Book is a celebration of an artistic collaboration that took place at Helen M. Knight Elementary School in Moab, Utah during the 2019-2020 School Year. It centers on the creative energy of Mrs. Charlotte Quigley’s 3rd Grade class. It involves the school’s inspired music teacher Sheila Strahan and BTSALP-Visual Art Specialist Art Coach Bruce Hucko.
The Adventure began when –
Mrs. Quigley’s 3rd Grade class was reading folk tales as part of their social studies curriculum. Good teacher that she is, Mrs. Quigley saw the opportunity for creativity and had her students write their own folk tales. Putting into practice what they learned about the characteristics of folk tales by writing one creates deep learning. They must have done a great job because the next thing Mrs. Quigley did was to meet with music teacher Sheila Strahan about doing an opera. When she taught kindergarten and 1st grade, Ms. Sheila’s classes and others produced student-written and performed operas. When she accepted the music post she brought those skills along and let the staff know she was ready to collaborate. Opera brings music, song, dance, theater, literature and the visual arts together in a most wonderful way, especially when it involves kids!
Mrs. Quigley suggested that student folk tales be used and Sheila enthusiastically agreed. Our “African Queens” (though they really are princesses) are Maddi, Olivia, Liesel and Ellie. They were asked to adapt their tales into a play which meant creating speech and assigning that speech to enough characters that the whole class would be involved. They worked many a morning and lunch recess to perfect their work. They then met with Sheila who edited and adapted them into the operatic format.
Students were invited to select the characters they wanted to play in each operetta. Sheila then worked with the class and individuals on their singing parts, wrote the music and then taught all students the music and the interlude dances. Sheila spent the summer of 2018 in Ghana, Africa studying tribal music and dance and now she was able to apply her new knowledge too!
They then came knocking on my door and it took maybe 3 seconds to get on board. The idea for pizza masks came easily. I had a few in my room from years before and was eager to do it again. This was the class! So that the entire 3rd Grade could be involved, but without the supplies and intensity of Mrs. Q’s class I centered on paper collage and printing. It worked out great.
While the masks were being made, songs were being practiced and dance moves perfected. Their was a heightened sense of excitement whenever class gathered.
Our work began with a PowerPoint on the mask culture in Africa. I started with a poster image from the movie “Black Panther.” Most all of the kids were quite familiar with it. The second slide was a museum photo of a real African panther mask that was 300 years old. Slides and video of African masks in ceremonial dance use revealed that masks not only represented an animal, deity, or other natural element, but that they also required their own movement. While studying masks the kids were also introduced to the life of Nelson Mandela, the number of languages spoken in Africa (over 1500), its size (4x United States), as well as art concepts of Pattern, Design, and Color Contrast. Students next created wonderful paper designs for the mask character the operettas required. And then –
Your homework. Tell your parents that Art Coach “requires” that you order a take-out pizza. Eat it if you want, BUT you must bring the box to school.
Thus began the building process. We had plenty of purchased and gifted pizza boxes. We also had a number of dedicated parents who came to help design, cut and glue for 2-3 art sessions. A big thanks to the parents of Maddi, Annabelle, Shycee and others. Kids come in all ages you know, and these parents prove it!
The young artists were challenged to have the primary features stand in relief from the cardboard base. This required novel engineering and gluing skills. Eyes, pupils, eyebrows, ears, horns, tusks, mouth, teeth, nose, trunk and whatever else needed to be on the creature were drawn, cut, and glued into place.
Base colors were applied during the first of 3 paint and decoration sessions. I wished you could have witnessed the 2nd paint session. It was one of the most potently creative and energetic arts sessions with children that I’ve ever encountered. You could hold the energy like an apple and bite it! Wow! Everyone brought their best game. The focus on painting their details was intense. The excitement palpable.
Paper Masks and Printing
As Mrs. Quigley’s class was writing and practicing their operettas the four other 3rd grade classes at HMK had their part to do also. Their “mask” project involved 3D paper collage and pattern printing using jute wrapped lengths of 2×4 dipped in tempera paint.
The paper collage provided the opportunity to manipulate paper. The challenge, like with the pizza box masks, was for students to create as many parts of an animal or humanesque face as they could out of different pieces of paper, AND to give the mask some relief by inventing techniques to raise the paper. They took to it with a particular creative hunger that was quite thrilling to be around.
We had shiny, metallic paper, standard construction paper, wall paper samples, bright card stock and whatever else I had on hand. Standard and craft scissors, along with good old tearing were employed.
The printing element was borrowed and altered from something I saw on Pinterest. African mudcloth was the primary inspiration. Instead of the traditional method, we used jute wrapped around a 6″ length of 2×4. Each child received a block of wood and about 6′ of jute. The jute is wrapped in any direction to create a design. The sides of the 2×4 are then taped down so they don’t move. Each of my students had two pieces of 18×24 drawing paper to make their prints. I asked them to make their first print with ONLY ONE COLOR and then they could use different colors on the second one. I soon had to abandon that bit of “control.” Once they understood the process they immediately started pouring designs of color in the foam plates we use for holding paint.
The crowded cacophony that erupted was really music to my ears! Everyone was experimenting, sharing and supporting each other. Though I’d started the day playing Pandora’s African Drumming in the background the “drumming” of print block to table created it’s own productive rhythm for the day.
When finished students were asked to give their mask an African sounding name. They could make something up or rearrange letters of their name like Kenzi did.