At home with local history
Students draw historic Snohomish homes
Emerson Elementary School 6 th grader Avery Tait, 11, shows the drawing that she did of her family’s home in Snohomish.
She and other students created the drawings in a Highly Capable program at Emerson Elementary in an art-docent led project that connects students to history, project planning, and artistic creation.
SNOHOMISH — Connecting students to the town’s history was the goal of a recent project at Emerson Elementary.
Students from the Highly Capable program at Emerson, designed for advanced learners in a multi-age setting, drafted and designed historic local homes from photos taken by art docent Zara Leroux. The intent was art education and a connection to local history.
The depiction of history is apt for Snohomish, where a Historic District and Historic Preservation Board were formed in 1973 for the sake of social, cultural and economic welfare of its citizenry. Awareness of its historical heritage is one of its stated values: a notion demonstrated by the project.
Leroux collected images for the project, on foot. Students used them a visual guide.
“I went for a run one day with my dog like a weird creeper” and took the photos, she said.
The selection was a random “pick a card, any card” method, Leroux said. The project required multiple steps and drafts, and use of pencils, paint, and a specialized and popular medium called “puffy paint” to depict snow.
“Some of them got really into it. Some got rulers out. Some didn’t get rulers out. Then we got to add color. Then we got to add puffy paint, (and) glitter at the end,” she said. The puffy paint, a medium that can be homemade with shaving cream and Elmer’s glue then tinted with food coloring was a widely popular experience. It puffs up when applied and dries white, to resemble snow.
Sophia Kuntz, 9, fourth grader, said she did the Foss House. She liked the process of starting with the snow for a base then “you take a pencil and drag it down so it would look like icicles. My favorite part is how when you’re done it just pops out and looks like it’s actually real.”
Hi Cap teacher Tanya Hastings said the project connected students to the history of Snohomish.
It was chosen for that historical link, but also for the other benefits of art. The project at Emerson took students through the planning and innovative momentum of an artist: gathering resources, going through the steps, going through several versions of the project, then focusing in on the details.
Leroux said the theme was formed around the style of “Grandma Moses,” a painter. She lived in the country and her husband died in 1927. As she mourned, she painted, and by 1938 she was a famous artist.
Grandma Moses was quoted describing her experience painting, for its meditative focus and its power to communicate: “I’ll get an inspiration and start painting; then I’ll forget everything, except how things used to be and how to paint it, so people will know how we used to live.”
Leroux found in her six years volunteering that teachers are always grateful and open to new ideas.
She uses mediums such as chalk or clay, and with the resources available on the Internet, “it’s endless,” she said. She finds new subjects and projects with each experience.
Lucas Fabela, a fourth grader, was enjoying both the art recollection, and the day in general:
“I’m 10. I’ve been 10 for a few hours, at 4:30,” he said, leaning back a bit in his chair. “That’s why I’ve got my Sprite.” He picked up a 16-ounce green plastic bottle, then resumed on his process. Fabela was seeking challenge.
“So, well, I had two options open to me. It was just this one little small, two-story house and then the Ship Captain House. And, you know, I’ve seen the smaller house. And, you know, it’s just like, I mean — I’m not the best at drawing. I like drawing. I love copying detail. And, it would just make me feel so good if I could finish this project.” He extended one hand, splayed upward and bobbing in front of him, as his teacher reminded him to put down the Sprite with his other hand. He took a sip, then complied.
“And I mean, a simple house, I mean — I won’t feel good when I finish it.” He drew the Morgan House, nicknamed “The Ship Captain House.” He chose it because “Mrs. Leroux said it was really hard. Anyways, I did it. I thought it turned out pretty well.” He sat back a bit in his seat as he wrapped up his description of the project.
He liked the use of a pencil because “that was when we really used creativeness.”
He said he went through several drafts and could really see the difference, from one stage to the next.
Harvey Leroux, 9, a fourth grader, said he likes the whole docent program, because, “my Mom comes in and she is really good at art.” He described his process in full detail: “You draw it with pencil, outline it with black flare pen, and you color it. And the detail was fun.”
KerriAnne McGrew, 11, a sixth grader, said she chose the old City Hall, which is now the City Mall: She liked the puffy paint, used to depict snow, and also used fabric paint. She noted that it dried clear but it was also “kind of sparkly and the puffy paint dried white.”
Jen Read, 10, a fifth grader, did the April House. “I actually don’t know where it is,” she said, but had fun creating it from a photo. She outlined the picture and darkened that with felt-tip marker then added puffy paint to make spots, “to make it look like it’s snowing. I used my pencils to draw a little bit on the overhang to make it look like icicles.”
Donovan Blondin, 11, a fifth grader, said his house was the Finch House.
He struggled at first to remember the name, saying, “It has a ‘inch’ (sound).” He already knew he liked to draw before the project began. “I drew the outline of the house, and then I added extra details just to make it purdy. And, um, then I outlined it with the black marker and tried to color it the same way as it is shown in the picture.”
Overall, students who drew or did not draw prior to the project agreed that it was fun.
The educational benefit occurs physiologically. According to The Dana Foundation, a nonprofit that studies brain science, sustained training in the arts improves cognition and attention.
And the link to the city’s historical roots unfolded through a connection to friends and neighbors.
Pieter Caruso, 10, a fifth grader, drew the Matt Albert home. “We copied them and outlined them. We added snow with puffy paint. And then I liked how it looked so wintery,” he said with a smile.“I chose the house because my friend lives in it, so I was like, ‘that’s cool,’ and I just thought it’d be cool to draw somebody I knew —their house.”
Volunteer as a docent to inspire young artists
Art programs are sometimes omitted to redirect resources to basic education. Volunteers fill the void.
For information on how to be an art docent, contact your local school.
Emerson Elementary School 6th grader Avery Tait, 11, shows a drawing that she did of her family’s home in Snohomish.
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