Art: A bridge from self to world

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The clay sculpture of a young girl stands about 7 inches tall.

Her arms outstretched, bright blue eyes open wide, as if taking in the world around her.

Her simplicity, innocence and playfulness capture, perhaps, the spirit of its creator, third-grader Pelilu Wines, who made the “mini-me” in art class at Grant Street Elementary School.

Since September, students in the public elementary school and OPEPO, its alternative learning program, have been creating art in many mediums, from graphite pencil to clay, under the instruction of Wanda Leclerc and guest artists from the community.

On April 20 the culmination of their work is presented in a community gallery walk down the halls of Grant Street school, which will be graced with more than 3,000 pieces of student art.

“You come in, and you’re just surrounded by children’s art and creativity,” said Principal Lisa Condran of the event, which last year drew about 500 people. “Everyone who walks out of it is in awe and amazement at all that the children have been able to do.”

The event is from 6 to 7:30 p.m. at the school, located at 1637 Grant St.

PLACE BASED

Art teacher Wanda Leclerc has been a teacher at the elementary school for 12 years.

“I try to connect (art) to things that they know,” said Leclerc of how she approaches teaching her students.

Every year, her art program is a little different.

“I make sure it’s a very well-balanced program,” she said. “They learn every form – line drawing, painting, 3-D.”

For the clay sculptures, Leclerc connected students with local artist Lynn Anju, and with their surroundings, both close and far away from home. The clay used to make the sculptures came from nearby Vashon Island. The art project itself was influenced by Angel Botello, whose sculptures of children populate Leclerc’s native Puerto Rico.

Students also tried their hand at silk painting, watercolors, pencil drawings, dioramas and more.

The dioramas – made by first- and second-graders – tied into science studies and the school’s place-based learning initiative. Students learned about Pacific Northwest species – salmon, for example – and created dioramas to represent that species’ habitat to help the students better remember and understand what they are learning about.

“There’s always the basics, but there’s (also) new ideas every year to change it up and have the kids exposed to everything possible,” Leclerc said.

A project the students did in the 2016-17 school year introduced concepts like waste reduction and recycling. Students made jellyfish out of plastic bottles with local artist Margie McDonald.

This year, McDonald was brought in to work with students to make three-dimensional art out of books.

“The arts are essential to a school, particularly in a community such as Port Townsend ... they allow students to express themselves in different ways,” Condran said.

She also noted research that indicates learning art and music techniques are beneficial to overall academic performance.

“We want to have students that are well-rounded and able to have a variety of experiences,” she said. “Grant Street is all about enhancing the spirit of young children, and art certainly does that.”

QUALITY

The gallery walk event Friday aims to be a festive one, with performers and refreshments being served by students from the Port Townsend High School culinary class.

“We’ll have some fruit, some cheese, some sparkling juice,” Leclerc said. “It feels like this whole gallery experience. We want (the students) to feel proud of the place and feel really special that night.”

This year’s show is also tinged with some nostalgia.

“This is the last year we’re in this building,” she said. “It would be nice for the community and students of this school to take a look at the hallway before it gets demolished.”

Condran described the event as awe-inspiring. “I don’t think everyone realizes the level and quality of art and expression that students can do, but they really are very, very capable.”

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