30 March 2009

A Sonoma County-wide Head Start Sculpture Program,
Charles Churchill, Teacher


There is a love and a magic that takes place between my almost 500 pre-school art students and myself.

When I come into the classroom of a Head Start school, the little children say Charlie’s here!, He’s here!, Hello Charlie!,  and sometimes they chant my name, Char-lie, Char-lie.  They radiate love for me and I return the love.  I feel blessed.

IN THE CLASSROOM. Onto the middle of a low table I place a large mound of wood scraps that have been donated by many sources, such as guitar makers and picture framers, and have then been manicured in my studio to fit tiny hands.  I call five students to our table, and give each of them an armature, a flat base 4 1/2 on a side with a 5 – 10 high vertical element glued to the middle of the base.  I write the student’s name on the bottom of the armature, give the student a small squeeze bottle of Weldbond Glue, and we begin.

Everybody watch Diego and me.  We are going to make wood sculptures this morning!  I put a bit of glue on a piece of wood chosen from the mound, place it on the armature and say, Put it on, Diego, put it on!  Ok, let’s put a piece on the other side.  We’ll do that.  Then I’ll say, Ok, Diego, now you choose one.  This one?  Walnut, very nice.  Where do you want it to go?  There?  Very good.  You have a good sense of composition!  Here is your glue and you can use anything on the table to make your sculpture.  I’ll go onto the next student.  Soon, I’ll have all five of them making assemblages.

As they work I will continually walk around the table helping, let’s put that here, let’s try this, that’s enough glue, Esmeralda.  I keep a wet cloth with me to keep the glue off the table and off their little hands.  They hold up a hand and say, Oooo, sticky.  I’ll place a tiny, brown, soft hand in my old, scarred, big hand and wipe off the offending white glue.  Every time I do this I am overcome with the sweetness of it, the love and the trusting of it.

Soon a student will say, I’m done.  I take their precious sculpture, place it on another table, and call the next student.  I’ll put some more wood on the table, kids.  They say, Ooooo!  For an hour we create so intensely we create a circle of sacred space around ourselves.  At the end I will be wet with sweat and there will be twenty gallery ready little sculptures.  We have our own art show!

THE STUDENTS. Some children work fast, some are minimalists, some are baroque in their approach.  Some spend most of the hour at the table.  All are individual, all have great talent to be nurtured.  Some are troubled, some are very happy, some chatter to me in English, some have no English at all, but we all speak the language of sculpture.

The children’s small sculptures are quite substantial, and usually, if the gluing technique I try to teach is absorbed by their young minds, are not fragile.  After a day of drying their creations are taken home where, I understand, they are valued.  Teachers making home visits report the children’s 3-D works and reliefs are displayed all over the house.  When a student has completed a sculptural work I always thank him or her for their hard work and tell each child, What a fine artist you are!.

IMPORTANT WORK.     Nurturing self esteem, talent, the art impulse in humanity, as well as fine motor skills and spatial relationships, is very important to 4 and 5 year old people.  They are just beginning to make their way in the world and this kind of nurturing increases their personal depths.  Creativity is a most human form of behavior.  Children, and adults for that matter, shrivel without a chance of expressing it.

Art is a very cerebral business.  It is all about making judgments and decisions.  Every brush stroke, every placement is a decision.  My little students get to see their decisions and judgment calls manifest before their eyes.  Seeing one’s thoughts take shape imparts courage and self confidence that can enrich a lifetime of decision making and judgment calls.

Between the Tse Foundation, the people who donate the materials, the classroom staffs, and myself, we make a difference in these children’s lives!

A FEW MORE THOUGHTS ON ART. All art is self portrait, and living is an art form.  All our lives, in our work and the way we choose to live, we are creating a self portrait.

Sculpture is about form, about shape.  A sculpture is a 3 dimensional object that can stand alone or be hung on a wall.  Abstract sculpture, which is what I teach and share with the Head Start children, doesn’t represent anything.  It’s strength is in itself. Thinking in the abstract is wonderful mental calisthenics.

When I first began teaching this Project five years ago, I asked the teachers if there were a Spanish word for sculpture.  The closest they could come was a word for statue.  Not really being what we do, I continued to use the word sculpture, and now the students and the teachers are using the word and understanding the concept!  This is a unique experience for all of us.

PREPARATION. Preparation is the key word, making successful classes possible.  The day of this writing I taught in Petaluma.  After class I went to a picture framer, Pelican Art, whom I had called the week before.  I had stopped by several months ago to get acquainted; they suggested my contacting them in the near future.    I was given a huge box of frame corners -samples.  I also stopped by a hardwood floor shop where I was given hardwood floor samples that will be cut up to be bases for armatures.  Next, I stopped at a cabinet maker in Sebastopol.  Between these three businesses, they filled my van.

Tomorrow I will spend the afternoon in my studio cutting down frame corners for 4 – 5 year old hands, and making armature components which I will glue together to form armatures to be ready for the next group of tiny, fabulous artists.  For every hour in the classroom I prep for three hours.

To show appreciation, and to encourage donations, I’ve made up a form thanking a business by name, and giving Head Start’s non profit tax #, for those businesses that wish to take their donations off their taxes.  And so, we are all happy.