Immersed in art

By Laura Snyder Smith
June 04, 2009
York County Coast Star

Pencils starting on the horizon, they dip down and around for the bow, then continue back again to finish drawing the sheer. With their eyes up to compare Peter Hoff’s example, the students continue sketching the rest of the boat.

“Nice,” says Hoff, pointing to Kathryn Ross’s rendering.

“Nice …; nice …; nice, nice, nice, nice,” he continues, checking individual progress. “That’s nice. That takes my breath away! Hey, these guys are great today!”

The seven girls and one boy in class today at Heartwood College of Art aren’t the Kennebunk college’s traditional students. They are Sea Road School students, here today as part of Heartwood Immersion. This is the third year the Education Foundation of the Kennebunks has funded the two-week program, through which approximately 150 fifth-graders from Consolidated School in Kennebunkport and Sea Road School in Kennebunk visit the college to sample their choice of art classes. Each student gets to immerse him- or herself in two of nine workshops ranging from watercolor painting to jewelry making, as well as photography, papermaking, polymer clay design, pastel painting, drawing, cartoon drawing, and Chinese calligraphy, all taught by Heartwood faculty artists.

Back in artist Hoff’s watercolor class on Thursday, May 27, the techniques are taught, sketchings done, revisions made. Hoff gathers the students around again, this time to talk color.

And when their paint hits the paper, creativity begins to shine.

“I recommend the blue for the boat, but that’s just me,” says Hoff with a knowing laugh; he’s retired from 36 years of elementary school teaching in the Maine School Administrative District 71 system, now a self-taught full-time watercolor artist from Kennebunkport. “We’re all different people, so our pictures are going to be a little different, too.”
Autumn Desrosiers carefully, methodically, mixes colors in her palette of red, yellow and blue. Next to Desrosiers, Cooper Fuller wastes no time in putting mixed colors to the paper. Hope Morrison decides her boat is going to be red.

“I love to watch the children work,” says Sea Road School visual arts teacher Darlene Nein. “We plant the seed – and they water it.”

The room is silent, except for the occasional question or teaching moment by Hoff, because students are intently focused on their work.

“If you like to draw, practice drawing parallel lines (from different angles and perspectives). It will help you learn control,” offers Hoff. “Drawing is just a matter of seeing shapes and angles.”
Nein says they’re so engaged “because it’s what they want to do.”

And so it is around the different rooms at Heartwood on this day.

“Making paper is like the funnest thing I’ve ever done,” says Holly Cloar in Gayle Fitzpatrick’s papermaking class, where the kids are literally immersing themselves in their art. Here they soak pulp in buckets of water before straining it, and by class end, let’s just say the kids are really into it.

“Look at how wet my jacket is!” exclaims Cloar to her friends, as across the room Sea Road band director Barry Saunders desperately tries to keep up with a mop.

“I love to work with children,” says a good-natured Fitzpatrick, who is quite soaked herself. “And we have so much fun. It’s great because they get an exposure to different art forms and then they get exposure to Heartwood as an integral part of the community.”

Sentiments echoed by Berri Kramer, president of Heartwood, who taughter polymer clay designs to an enthusiastic class Thursday.

“It’s just such a great opportunity for them to experiment with different mediums and materials, and it teaches them a whole host of other skills, like problem-solving,” she says. “They soak it all in here.

“It’s also important for us to be mindful of where that generation is at and understand their point of view.
“And it’s important to give them something, not teach them something, but give them something. If even one or two kids are inspired, then it’s totally worth it.”

By day’s end, it’s also worth it for the teaching artists, who agree they have learned just as much from the kids.

“I’m a very literal painter,” says Hoff, adding that he often learns from student’s “mistakes.”

“I’ll go ‘Hey, look at that!’ I’m looking over their sketches and see something and say ‘hmmm,’ I should try that,” he says, wiping down the tables. “I learned so much.”