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Students painting with hands, fingers at Mabel Rush

Parent-led literacy program kicks off year with school-wide painting project


Mabel Rush Elementary School has featured a volunteer art literacy program for about 30 years, but new parent organizers Carla Cox and Shelly Didway have taken the program in a new direction.by: SETH GORDON - Getting the point -- Every student at Mabel Rush Elementary School used their fingers (left) to execute the concept of pointillism, pioneered by Georges Seurat, to the school's art literacy   program's first-semester    project, a six-panel painting (above) that will be displayed prominently in the school library.

The duo kicked off the year by coordinating Mabel Rush’s first school-wide project in years, centering on the concept of pointillism famously developed by 19th century master Georges Seurat.

Every student has dipped their finger in the project, figuratively, using their digits to apply dots of paint to a six-canvas painting — one for every grade kindergarten through fifth — but what has Cox, Didway and the staff at Mabel Rush most excited is how the students are diving headfirst into the creative process of art beyond the initial project and moving forward.

Principal Lisa Callahan got to experience their excitement firsthand when students submitted their work for an optional Thanksgiving break pointillism contest.

Tasked with using pointillism to color in a drawing of a lion, just about every one of the 70-plus students to take part made sure to show her their work before officially turning it at the school office.

“They were that proud of it,” Callahan said. “So there’s this huge excitement and pride component that’s come into it, which is really neat to see. And them taking off with it and bringing up that at home they decided to make this or that.”

Cox and Didway, who had worked together before when their children attended St. Paul Parochial School, decided to switch things up by having groups of five to six students contribute to their grade’s panel at a time. Previously, art literacy projects or lessons were done one grade at a time in the library before moving to the cafeteria to create the piece.

Cox, a professional artist, and Didway, an amateur enthusiast, spoke in each classroom at the school to teach students about Seurat and explain the concept of pointillism. After that, they cycled through in small groups for two weeks until the project was completed.

“When you can take smaller groups, it allows them to be more creative, it allows them to explore it more and it just isn’t as crazy” Didway said. “It’s a little more work, but at the end of the day I think they got more out of it. I really think if you put them in a room with different art, they could find the Seurat.”

Cox painted the colored backgrounds, which progress panel by panel from red to purple along the color spectrum, and the tree. The students then used the pointillism technique to create the leaves.by: SETH GORDON - The leaves on each panel were created by students in one grade level, rising in complexity as the  progression moves left from the kindergarten's red canvas to the fifth grade's purple.

“For these kids this will be the first thing in their school that they’ve actually completed themselves,” Didway said. “I think it was fun and it was a really fun way to start the program this year.”

With Cox taking the lead on executing the art itself, Didway coordinated parent volunteers and class schedules.

“I cannot tell you how many moving parts there are in this, to have all these little fingers coming through our art room,” Cox said. “She was just fabulous getting it organized.”

The pointillism project was just the start for the art literacy program this year, as the pair will work with individual classes by grade on a monthly basis moving forward, starting with kindergarten and first grade in January and culminating in a student show by the end of the school year.

Cox and Didway are also working to set up an after-school club where students, regardless of grade, will have a chance to work on the concepts and project for that month.

Many teachers in the school built on to the project by working on pointillism projects during regular class time and the pair said they have been thrilled with the amount of support they’ve received from staff and parent volunteers.

Callahan said she is grateful for the passion for art that has infused every aspect of what Cox and Didway have done in the school, truly appreciative for such a valuable community resource being made available for students.

“This is an incredible way to do it and the fact they tie it to a particular artist in art history and those components being in place, there’s some really neat things that are happening with this,” Callahan said. “This is like having a guest artist program built into your school and have it frequently throughout the year.”




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