Sunday, April 29, 2012

Broad Meadow Brook

I used to have this enviable ability to hold it all together – you know – excessive self-restraint. Control. Fortitude.

Until a few weeks ago. When I turned 30 and went all-soft.

Now things like the writings of Sarah Cowper, the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, $50 co-pays and children’s artwork (who aren’t mine) make me dissolve in tears.

Perhaps a bit of backstory. In January, I was invited by Worcester Family Partnership – a coalition/part of the MA department of education which provides services, screenings, exposing families to Worcester resources, offers playgroups, family literacy, workshops and support (among MANY other things) – to participate in a program based around Goodnight Worcester.

I thought – Sure! I’m game.

Great! They said …so, we’re thinking of a children’s art show.

Really?! Extensive gaping. How can I sign-up for that?! 

Good. They said. We were hoping you’d say that... 

Well – there were emails. Phone calls. A monster-sized-order-from-American-printing of copies of GW. And perhaps a few acrobatics. What resulted was one of the most amazing days ever – an afternoon planned at Broad Meadow Brook (a center and wildlife sanctuary which is part of the Massachusetts Audubon) for up to 50 Worcester families (with children aged birth to about 8) – for free. A day with guided nature walks with Audubon Natural History Guides. A day reading books – teaching watercolor, walking, painting, learning – and displaying.

Oh here we go again (getting all welled up with tears).

I coordinated the activity with two of the most amazing women I have ever met – Kristin from Mass Audubon and Beth from Worcester Family Partnership. 

One thing I learned really quickly is that I have zero teaching experience. So the first-first lesson plan I sent them involved…well…an intense amount of things to do (toddlers don’t have a long attention span? Really? This shouldn’t have been news to me).

Fortunately, Kristin and Beth are extremely seasoned and helped me pare down what I wanted to show into something a bit more lean.

So, to debrief, we divided the families into two groups – one group that was with me first and learned a thing or two (or hopefully more) about watercolor and one group that was outside with the nature guides. Then for the second hour, the groups switched.

I went over:

  1. How to hold a brush
  2. How to lay a flat wash
  3. How crayons are not water-loving (i.e. crayon resists and how they work)
  4. How to make a ‘viewfinder’
  5. How to look and record while outside
  6. How totally cool real watercolor paper is

And because I am extremely stubborn and insisted on showing how to create a sketchbook, I was allowed to leave it as a take-home activity. For this, one of my co-workers gave me some perforated paper she was going to throw away – they made excellent mini-sketchbooks! (And I got to make a neurotic hand-out):

Tony cut all the paper to size – made the frames for all the artwork to be displayed in – and my mom helped figure out the portable easels (chipboard and clothespins? Hello? Genius). Family came. Friends came. I splurged and bought some lovely paper for the finished artwork.

N.B. I did take pictures after the work was completed and pre-clean up – first, because my hands were a little too busy to take photographs and second, I didn’t want to photograph someone else’s child. But I’ve peppered this post with a requisite amount of Henry and Sophia pictures so you don’t forget what they look like. 

The art demo was done inside, as was the ‘lesson’ – we read Goodnight Worcester, practiced with ‘nature’ I brought ‘in’ (birch paper, acorns, pine needles, pine cones, feathers (cleaned) and a nest (my big plan was to show how cool it is to use white crayon on white paper and how your design comes through. I showed a nest with eggs. I know, I know – I got a whole afternoon to try and turn 50 unsuspecting families into total dorks).  

And then – they were released to the wild. To paint. They used ‘stations’ we set up with watercolor in mason jars, 1-inch foam brushes and watercolor paper around the sanctuary.  

The children came back with these – THESE – beautiful, amazing pictures. Have you ever seen anything so stunning?! Look at their technique! Their washes! Their use of color! I was so in love with every piece that returned for matting and mounting that my eyes watered. All these little artists returned with their renditions of Broad Meadow Brook. And the best part? The pieces are on display there through June – in the room where they (sniff, sniff) display artist’s work. 

A children’s art show. 

I’m a pretty light packer, so I thought my full trunk for the afternoon was somewhat noteworthy. One thing I definitely forgot though - the tissues.

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