Sometimes it feels like sneaking away from the office. Often, it doesn’t feel like work at all. No, I’m not referring to a business lunch (alright, milkshake) at the Mint Café, nor the frequent shopping trips for art supplies. The midday getaway is more commonly known as “after-school outreach,” when I load up my car with artistic accouterments and drive to area elementary schools.
After-school outreach is a big part of a Woodson Art Museum educator’s job. Many Wausau elementary school students attend after-school programs, and coordinators enlist Museum art educators to participate. Most of my after-school outreach work is with students in kindergarten though third grade. “Animal Illustrators” has been an especially popular program this school year and was one of the first projects I became familiar with when I joined the Museum last fall. Geared toward students ages six to nine, “Animal Illustrators” is described to parents and educators as follows:
“Each week the group explores the works of a different children’s book illustrator. Students are read a story and discuss the book’s illustrations. Inspired by the techniques and materials of the artist, students try their hand at that art technique and make their own illustrations. Some of the illustrators that students illustrations. Some of the illustrators that students become familiar with are Denise Fleming, Eric Carle, Lois Ehlert, Steve Jenkins, and Robert Sabuda.”
Our young animal illustrators make collages, à la Hungry Caterpillar illustrator Eric Carle, using colorful tissue paper and slick stick crayons. Students also make paper with our mobile paper lab (yes, it’s as involved as it sounds). The paper lab is the student’s favorite and requires the use of a shop vac, iron, paper pulp, screens in wooden frames, and, of course, decorative stuff. What’s homemade paper without glitter?! The heavy-duty equipment like the iron and shop vac are operated by adults, but the young paper artists leave the 90-minute program with a complete understanding of how artist Denise Flemming creates her charming book illustrations.
Pop Art is the subject of the art-history-based, after-school program for older students (grades 3 – 5), who are exposed to the diverse artistic styles of Claes Oldenberg, Andy Warhol, Roy Lichtenstein, and Jasper Johns. Food sculptures, printmaking, benday-dot design, and acrylic painting are some of the processes students experience. I took a picture of one student’s life-sized paper-and-tape sculpture of a Thanksgiving-style turkey (inspired by Oldenburg’s store food displays) and enjoyed it as my cell phone background image for weeks.
Although Pop Art and Animal Illustrators are programs Woodson Art Museum educators have ready to take on the road, we also create new programs and community collaborations throughout the year. One such collaboration recently took place in the Edgar School District, where fellow educator Jayna Hintz and I helped create an enchanted forest in the school cafeteria in preparation for a production of “The Tortoise and the Hare” with the Missoula Children’s Theater Company. When Edgar teachers told us their vision to transform school space to include a huge tree surrounded by forest creatures and decorative vines, we embraced the challenge wholeheartedly. Chicken wire, tissue paper, pipe cleaners, and hours of laughter later, we were all happy with the results, and the toughest critics – the students – were excited, too.
Every outreach experience is different. In the Mosinee High School gym last week, Jayna and I chatted with high school juniors about careers in museums and the non-profit world. A group of Mosinee high school students will visit the Woodson Art Museum on April 18 for Careers in Action Day, when they will shadow staff and experience a “behind-the-scenes” look at an art museum.
The caffeine-filled, mini-roadtrips with fellow staff members are always a time for bonding and brainstorming in the car, as we take our work on the road, ready and eager to share art with students.