Greenwich Time, Wednesday October 26, 2005

Art council expands docent program for Students

By Keach Hagey

Staff Writer

Hamilton Avenue fifth-graders Dior Roberts and Emily Carroll, both 10, surveyed all the paintings in this months exhibition at the Greenwich Arts Council before selecting a medium-sized landscape in the corner.

“I like the different colors,” Dior said, pointing out the subtle shades of brown and blue to the 20 classmates gathered around her.

“It reminds me of a rainbow,” Emily said.

The artist, painter Frances Ashforth, let the students theorize about what the blue swath at the bottom of the piece represents - water was the prevailing theory - before telling them what it actually was.

“it’s blue-green sagebrush,” she said, explaining that the plant covers much of the Western landscapes she represents in her paintings and pastel drawings.

The exchange represented the beginning of a newly expanded student docent program at the council, in which elementary school students are trained to guide their fellow students around the monthly exhibitions.  Begun last year with fifth-graders from New Lebanon School, the program has grown this year to include students from Hamilton Avenue Magnet School.  It is sponsored in part by a grant from the Ruth W. Brown Foundation.

Frank Juliano, executive director of the council, said he hoped yesterday’s introductory session would inspire teachers from Hamilton Avenue and New Lebanon schools to participate fully in the program by selecting four students from their classes to be trained as docents.

Council staff will teach these students how to talk about art, and then the docents will lead their classmates around future exhibitions.

“The kids related differently to each other than to us,” Juliano said.

During yesterday’s session, he tried to lay groundwork for the kind of personal connections to artwork that the docents would need to make good tours.

When Cedric Michel, 10, picked out a large drawing of several colored round objects, saying he thought that they looked like pears, Juliano urged the other students to think of what the shapes reminded them.

“The outside looks like the outside of a stuffed shell,” said Gabriella Ruiz, 10.

Another student thought they looked like jellybeans.

“There was a stream I used to walk by every day with my dog,” Ashforth explained.  “These were stones in the stream.”

The children also got to learn more mechanical questions about how art gets thought up, made and sold.

“Why did you make it in the shape that it is?” Gabriella asked sculptor Oscar Garcia, who made the granite, wood and bronze works interspersed with Ashforth’s paintings.

It’s just lines and ideas that came to my mind,” Garcia replied.  Juiiano noted that, often, the material itself is the guide.

“Sometimes the material, whether  it is wood or stone, tells you how to work with it.  It’s very hard working with stone,” he said.

So hard in fact, that the diamond drill bit that Garcia was useing to carve out the piece of Peruvian granite that later became “Torso Inca,” the gallery’s central sculpture, broke off.  Garcia decided to use the embedded bit as part of the artwork, balancing the stone on its point.

In a rare moment for kids in galleries, the students were invited to touch the sculpture, finding it cold, rough on one side and smooth on the other.  And in an even rarer moment of art-world honesty, the students got to ask Juliano point blank about the economics behind the exhibition.

“Do you get paid to put it in here?” Cedric asked.

Juliano laughed, explaining that the works of art were for sale, and would hopefully be sold and make Garcia “a very rich artist.”

In a final tactile experience, Dana Rodriguez, a dance teaching artist at the council, led the 45 students, broke up in two groups, through an improvisational dance based on the shapes of the objects around them.

The whole event was topped off with cookies and punch - and early precursor to the wine and cheese that will be apart of the art viewing experience for those students who choose to make going to galleries a life long activity.

Cookies aside, it seemed like some of them just might do that.

“It was very surprising to me” Taiel Gookool, 10, said of the visit. “I’ve never seen such beautiful pictures.”

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