Saturday, November 22, 2008

Art Co-op

Co-ops are a great way to enrich the homeschooling experience. My first introduction was with a preschool co-op 14 years ago. Five moms (6 students) took turns planning and executing lessons with another mom as a helper.

Through the years I've been involved in co-ops for unit studies (KONOS--6 families, 12 plus children), science, history, writing, and art. Some have included just one other family.

I've used Mona Brookes' Drawing With Children at home (just my family), with good results, but have been part of a 6 family art co-op for going on 4 years now. We usually meet for 8-12 sessions per semester. In the past we've hired a "real" artist to teach drawing as well as work in varied media. We have so many students that we meet simultaneously (divided by age) at two nearby homes.

For our last several semesters we moms have led lessons from Discovering Great Artists. We present the artist and his (occasionally her) work, teaching some history and art appreciation. Then comes an art project related to the week's artist. The children have painted with melted crayons, watercolors, and tempera thickened with flour. They've made prints with wood and leaves, molded clay, and produced landscapes in several styles. We've worked our way through the Renaissance and into the Expressionist, Surrealist, and Abstract movements.

For my latest teaching turn I presented the British sculptor, Henry Moore (1898-1986). He was prolific, producing many small

as well as huge works.His early work, while not realistic is recognizable--women, mothers with children, families. Animal forms also interested him.

Moore sculpted lots of reclining figures like this one.This animal shape is more "inspired by" than a replication.For our art project, the children were to carve blocks of "stone". I mixed equal amounts of plaster and sawdust, then added enough water to get a mashed potato consistency.
Having a veterinarian for a husband means I have a big box of gloves in just my size. So handy!

Len has a dust collection system in the workshop that he has never emptied. This meant we had an ample supply of sawdust for my 23 blocks. The hardest item to gather was actually the 1/2 gallon containers; our family was happy to drink premium orange juice for a few months!


I've worked with plaster before, and it's often tricky to get everything mixed with just the right amount of water before it starts hardening. The sawdust gave me a lot more time to get everything just right.
I mixed the plaster about 1 1/2 hours before class so it would be firm enough to unmold but still easy to carve with dinner knifes and regular spoons.
Everyone enjoyed this project. For some it was just a chance to work with a new material, while others had a plan and tried to make something specific. This one was inspired by birds. From this angle it looks a bit like a bird's head, and from another direction it looks more like a body and tail.It was easiest to carve on the first day, but Becca worked on her project, below, over the course of several sessions.
A knife and spoon work for carving, digging, and smoothing. While soft(ish), the sculptures could also be smoothed with just fingers.
Our co-op is going on a field trip to the National Gallery in December, but otherwise we're done until January. I'm scheduled to cover just one artist next semester--Salvador Dali. I may add an extra session just so I can try a project (not in our book) inspired by my favorite contemporary artist, Andy Goldsworthy. (Follow the link to see some of his beautiful, transitory works.)

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