Wednesday, February 23, 2011
Each year the tall pine next to the Art Studio is home to a family of magpies. I have watched as they rear their young, take their first flying lessons and scavenge through the remains of recess and lunch discarded by the boys. The quiet of the schoolyard and abundance of crumbs provide a perfect environment for which the magpies to live and raise their young.
On Tuesday afternoons I collect the prep class and walk through the outdoor chess area, under the shade of the pine to the Art Studio. The boys had noticed the magpies on many occasions and we often chatted about them on the way to class. This prompted me to create a unit of work based around the family of magpies in our school. I wanted to integrate the visual and kinesthetic processes of art with the boy’s verbal observations, by giving children a chance to create not only with words, but also with painting and sculpture. I aim to celebrate the value of visual and kinesthetic learning alongside the verbal and written.
This year’s prep boys are very fond of Pamela Allen storybooks and our Teacher Librarian had found for me her book Waddle Giggle Gargle! Which is a delightful story on boisterous magpies. This gave me a great starting point to introduce the magpies in our art. We spent a productive lesson sitting outside in the late November sunshine and drew the family of magpies as they rummaged through the garden near the art studio. The class had to work very quietly and stay still. This Plein Air experience gave us much to discuss back in the studio as the boys added to their sketches of the birds.
The following week we used clay to make simple bird shapes with spread wings. These basic slab and sausage constructed birds gave the preps their first experience of using slip to join and toothbrushes to score. Each bird was individual, some with wing tips and others with long beaks. As they were flat the sculptures dried quickly and were fired within the week. The next week we looked closely at some photos I had taken of the magpies and discussed the patterns and features in their plumage. Black underglaze made the distinctive markings with a simple dot of red underglaze painted in the eye to give the magpie its distinctive stare.
Throughout these weeks the boys took great interest in the magpies, reporting to me their activities and whereabouts. This project had connected the boys to the school environment and made them aware that others also share the playground and world with them each day. We painted the sky on simple MDF boards using sponges and blue and white paint to mimic the soft clouds in the sky. Glazed magpies were attached to the soft-clouded skies. We finished the project by writing a couplet rhyme, which encapsulated the boy’s ideas about the life of the school magpies. The boys describe their observations of the magpies so vividly that creating a couplet came easy.
The magpies fly in the sky
Fly in circles, way up high
Words were written in permanent maker along the rim of the clouds finishing an artwork that brings together literature, art and the realm of personal experience.