April 11, 2013 Pathfinder

Art Mobile 2013
Cultural Abstractions
Photos & story by Betty Vanderwielen


Photographs of the Milky Way, of a Mennonite classroom, of a proud mountain lion and her baby; paintings abstract, realistic and visionary; Hmong snail-design fabric art; vibrantly colored handmade paper and a handmade fold-out book revealing things “Beneath the Surface”; an old tractor created with house paint on a brown paper bag; a bandolier made of toothbrush handles; dolls in traditional Crow regalia; a pottery-thrown platter; a ceramic Buddhist monk; a berry-picking basket made of tree bark – these were just some of the wonders Art Mobile Montana brought to our area schools for this year’s visit.

Over three intensive days, Art Instructor Jennifer Thompson watched groups of youngsters from pre-school to high school circulate through the portable gallery exhibit that displayed the works of Montana artisans. Responding to each student group according to their interest level, and attentive to which pieces drew their attention, Jennifer not only enlightened the students on various aspects of the artwork, but also guided them toward an appreciation of the variety of cultures which make up Montana.

With the high school art students, Jennifer discussed Ledger Art – colored pencil drawings by 19th century Plains Indians using the pages of old accounting ledger books. Such drawings are valued today for their insights into Native American perspectives on history and on changes within their own culture. Jennifer gave each student a sheet of ledger paper and challenged them to create their own personal, graphically symbolic, record.

Since she had fewer students and more time at Swan Valley School, Jennifer bravely embarked on two large-scale abstract art projects (one for the younger students, another for the older ones). Referring to three of the art pieces in the exhibit, Jennifer discussed ways of seeing and infusing significance into abstract works and possible techniques for conveying meaning. Then she laid down a protective tarp, opened up cans of different colored house paint, and the “artists” got busy.

Working individually, yet with a common purpose, they splattered and dropped and swished and dabbed – and came out with remarkable abstract art pieces of which they are all (justifiably) proud as multi-colored peacocks. They even came up with names for their masterpieces. Jennifer calls them “title poems” because, “the titles [are] so much like poems that I HAD to call them that” says Jennifer.

Samples from the younger group: Star Desert; Dream Flood; Ocean Rainstorm… from the 7th and 8th graders: Set Fire to Rain; Mayonnaise; Multi-Color Verse; Seasonal Starburst River.

Alpine Artisans collaborates in bringing Art Mobile Montana to our area schools each year. They help with financing, providing meals and housing for the Art Instructor during her stay, and supplying volunteers to assist in setting up and taking down the gallery exhibit as it travels to each school.

See more photos of the event at www.alpineartisans.org/communityoutreach.

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