When Shannon Horridge first learned about a cooperative art idea that spanned grade levels at an educators’ conference a few years ago, she knew she’d have to try it. Horridge has taught art at Brownsville Elementary for the past 18 years, and she was intrigued by the prospect of kindergarteners and high schoolers working in tandem on an art project based on a beloved children’s book, Where the Wild Things Are by Maurice Sendak.
Horridge explained the sequence of events. “First, the kindergarten classes read the book and talked about shapes and patterns they saw in the monsters,” she said. “Then they drew their own monsters with wax crayons, and painted over the crayon with watercolor,” in a process called a crayon resist. The young artists also dictated a description of their monster’s personality and physical qualities, which was attached to the backs of the paintings.
Horridge delivered the artworks to WAHS art teacher Nancy Mehlich, who in turn presented them to students in her Art I, Art II, and Crafts classes. The high schoolers each used ‘found’ and recycled materials of all kinds—buttons, yarn, milk jugs, fabric, pins, egg cartons, paint—to construct a three-dimensional sculpture exactly replicating one of the monster paintings. The results were stunning.
“The students were so inventive,” said Horridge. “Every time I look I see some new detail, some really creative use of a physical thing to mimic a texture in the painting.” Though Horridge had piloted the program with another colleague using 18 paintings the year before, WAHS took on a bigger goal. “We were able to collaborate on sixty of the paintings,” said Mehlich, “and next year we hope to do more.”
One pair of art partners was Lucie Mercer from Brownsville and Lexi Warburton, a sophomore at WAHS. Though they never met during the creative process, each gave serious thought to their monster design. “It was really fun,” said Mercer, who pointed out that her painting was a picture of herself as a monster. In the notes on the back, she described specific details such as its hands, which had “black fur and three claws,” its specially decorated feet, and its “ears shaped like an 8.”
From there, Warburton used a variety of materials to interpret Mercer’s image in 3D. “I thought a lot about how Lucie said it was her,” said Warburton, whose part of the project took about four weeks to complete. She used hot glue and orange tissue paper for the body, folded cardboard for the head, pieces of insulation for the feet, and sections of watercolor trays for the ears. In a further set of parallels, Warburton was a former student at Brownsville herself, and had even had Mercer’s kindergarten teacher, Ms. Davis, as a long-term substitute in third grade.
Mehlich would love to have all of the pairs of artists meet up in person next year, perhaps even to collaborate on the work while still in progress. In the meantime, she’s collecting materials in boxes in her art room—wood, metal, paper, plastic, fabric—so there will be plenty to choose from. “Most art teachers are kind of savers,” she said. “A quantity of anything will make a thing.” Add the ingenuity of artistic collaboration, and the outcome can be twice as nice.