Old contact - new project
Open Studios is always a wonder when it comes to meeting new people interested in craft. During an open weekend in the summer of 2018 I met someone who recognised me from Shrewsbury Art School days. Despite walking past the old art school buildings every day on my way to the studio, I didn't imagine actually meeting anyone from those halcyon foundation course days.
Gina is amazing at recalling people from the course and we were soon catching up on other folk. She told me all about setting up Opportunity pre-school in the town thirty years ago, and that they were looking for a commemorative art project to mark the occasion.
The parents committee who run the school were keen to include the acer tree planted when they first opened, that all the school community should be involved and something that could be taken down should they ever need to relocate!
So we arranged a site visit to look at potential areas to install a mosaic.
The front of the school is fairly plain and would certainly attract attention each day as the families arrive.
A timetable was planned so that ever child at the school could firstly come and work on some drawings of flowers from the surrounding grounds and secondly work with me on sticking down glass gems. The sessions were scheduled for mornings across several weeks and as the studio is fairly close by it was possible to pop over with the minimum of fuss.
The children were aged 2-4 years old and Gina and the teaching team prepared them well beforehand, discussing what mosaic was and about the project. Each session we sat in circle time to talk through what we were going to do. From these discussions the children were set various challenges. This could be using only red glass tiles or only working within the heart shapes drawn on the board. The children could select from little pots of pre-formed glass tile shapes. Glass cutting was ruled out as a health and safety issue. Children were also instructed not to put anything in their mouth as they were not sweeties! I prepared the boards with some general shapes in black marker pen to create a design across several boards. Each board was either 30 or 50 cms in diameter and accessible when on the art table for all the children to reach. Breaking the panels down was done so that the children weren't overwhelmed by the overall size of the mosaic. When the seven boards were put together they would create two mosaic trees.
The boards are made of plywood so they needed several coats of yacht varnish on the backs and edges to protect them from the weather. This was done away in the studio as the varnish is strong smelling and takes several days to apply as it has to dry between each coat.
The children worked with such care and persistence. Opportunity pre-school is guided by the Emilio-Reggio teaching system, so the children were very autonomous and made considered confident choices about tiles, shapes and colours.
Some areas I created boundaries for the design with the children freestyling creating flowers around those areas. During one of the circle time sessions the children decided they liked the acer tree idea but also wanted one of their own - a rainbow tree! So the larger tree was kept in the soft pinks and greesn of the autumn acer tree and the smaller roundel would have the rainbow colours. The children were read stories about trees, flowers and rainbows to reinforce the vocabulary and visual images being talked about.
Parents were also invited to participate during a wine and mosaic evening at the school. I was amazed at the level of support the parents bring to the school and a grand evening was had by all! Adults were tasked with completing the acer tree using pre-cut stained glass and the sky behind each tree.
With all the panels stuck down it was then my task to ensure all spaces were filled and to grout the finished panels. During this stage the school wanted to submit one of the panels into a local art exhibition held in Bellevue each year. it was thrilling to see the panel and explanatory text and pictures on display with the adult artwork.
The final part of the project was the installation on the school exterior walls with the help of Gina's husband! The grand unveiling was on the anniversary itself with a splendid Strawberry Tea for everyone.
And for those past students and their families, they were invited to help with the creating of a welcome sign to also go on the front entrance to the school. A truly inclusive project!