Studio Child’s Play

I am very blessed to have a great group of neighbors, and of course in a year like this one, I am especially grateful for them!

There are 10 of us total, and we get together once every week or two, staying outside and socially distancing. Once it became apparent that the kids in the group would not be returning to in-person school this year, the parents asked if I would run a little art class for them once a week, and I was happy to do so.

My house has a little sun porch area that was going unused. I set this up with an old table, chairs, and book shelf, and rounded up all my odds and ends of art supplies. Usually we have class outside, but if we do have to be inside, it is this dedicated room, where no one goes the rest of the week.

It has been such a joy to have this class! Unlike regular art teachers, I don’t have any budgetary worries, and I don’t have to accomplish a set curriculum. Each child has a giant cookie sheet to corral their work, and a silicone muffin pan to mix paints in. I can hold a piece of cardstock for the 3-year-old to snip into fringe all around the edges, while the 6-year-old mixes her own “gold” paint and fills up endless sheets of scrapbook paper, and the 8-year-old sculpts a cyclops out of air-dry clay. They remember what supplies we have used before and will ask for me to bring out the washi tape or puff paint if that is what they need for their project.

As always with teaching, I love seeing the kids come up with ideas I would never think of in 100 years. At Halloween time, I did a very brief demonstration of drawing a house with crayons, and then painting over it with black paint to make it look like nighttime. I drew some flowers on one side and a dead tree on the other — the older kids said it looked like a sweet neighborhood on one side and spooky on the other, and drew multiple extensions of my picture, with dragons, boarded up houses, a nice house that had “free internet”, and more.

Some of their projects are drawn as elevations, some as birds’ eye views — they switch between the perspectives freely. They are at home using a reference photo or working from their imaginations.

Today we were planning our Christmas baking party where moms are invited — I was thinking cute little gingerbread houses out of graham crackers — they immediately thought of doing a “Chopped” competition with appetizer, main course, and dessert. I think we all know which idea is more original.

So back to the whole group. Once a year we have a Fancy Dinner. We have a theme; we plan aperitifs, digestivs, and even intermezzos; we put out crystal and good silver, we print menus. We all work like caterers to make our contribution, and then we go home and dress up, and come back and have a 5-hour dinner. The ladies wear dresses, and the men will even humor us by wearing suit coats. I wear my vintage rhinestones, including my 50 cent tiara from the thrift store.

I make the desserts, and this year, to give you the “flavor” of our dinners, one of them was cherry/pear gratin, where the pears were from our tree, put up by me with honey from the neighbors’ bee hive, and the glaze was mustang grape jelly, also harvested here and put up by me. (Another was limoncello panna cotta, where I used limoncello created by one of the neighbors. The last was chestnut/bourbon bonbons, where I peeled and boiled actual chestnuts, but thankfully the bourbon totally disguised their flavor.)

This year I knew I had to put the two events together, and have an Art Opening at our Fancy Dinner.

We had had a beautiful day in November where we painted en plein air, and while the kids were painting, I did little 1-minute sketches of them. (The 6-year-old’s critique — “It’s okay, but Miss Gwen, you need more practice.”)

I also asked each child, “What do you like about art?” and “When people look at your art, what would you like them to be thinking?” I wrote down their answers and then typed them up later as their “Artist’s Statement.”

Planning for the show, I had them go through all the art they had done this fall, and choose whether it was “show-worthy”, or should be kept to be turned into another project later. You would be amazed at the number of pieces that were deemed show-worthy.

The host family has a lovely front porch, where I planned to set up the gallery. I had so much fun grouping the art for the exhibit! I mounted the art on old peg boards and dry-erase boards that we had, and brought some outdoor tables for the sculpture. Our “Sweet/Spooky Subdivision” went into the “Collaboration Corner,” as did some pieces where an adult had helped a child, or one child’s painting became another child’s cutting practice. I put the En Plein Air pictures together with the Artist’s Statements and my sketches of the artists. I had a board of “Instructor’s Favorites,” and for all the other pieces, I punched holes in the top and looped binder rings through them, and hung them from a cable.

The exhibit board with the Plein Air paintings and artists’ statements.

My husband is really good at coming up with names for things, so I asked him what I should name our studio. He immediately said, “Child’s Play.” Our dinner theme for this year was Italian, so I had Google translate Child’s Play and it suggested Gioco da Ragazzi.

I made a sign that thanked all the sponsors of Gallery Gioco da Ragazzi — my husband for sponsoring our studio space, one set of parents for sponsoring the exhibition space, other people for donating art supplies or providing studio assistance. I even thanked the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, because they are thanked at the end of every PBS show, and it just seemed like it needed to go at the end of our thanks list! I made a gallery book that I asked everyone to sign, and I displayed it on a little table topped with a rainbow quilt, and attached a pen with recycled sari ribbon. ( I had as much fun creating the branding of our gallery as the kids had in painting their pictures.)

I brought little flashlights and candles to highlight the works, and they added the perfect ambiance. The kids were on hand to explain their art and answer any questions.  The grown-ups were all suitably impressed and deferential to the artists.  🙂

In normal life, I rarely go to art openings — but I always know that I could if I wanted to!  I miss being able to travel and have new experiences, so our homemade gallery opening was a fun substitute.