It’s been 19 years since I gave my first printmaking workshop in a school with the Culture in the Schools program. It still thrills me to walk into a classroom of new students and reveal the magic of printmaking. Through the years I have visited elemenary and high schools across Quebec, from Saint Jerome in the Laurentians, to Lac Megantic in the Eastern Townships, to Thedford Mines in Chadière-Appalaches. My main playground these days, however, is Montreal’s West Island.
This week I visited École Dollard-des-Ormeaux. I gave 12 workshops to 240 students over 4 days. It was Semaine des Arts. The spotlight was on Africa. A musician gave percussion workshops while my students created prints inspired by African masks.
After showing my early series of woodcut prints, I demonstrated how to hand print a linocut with a spoon. The younger the audience, the louder the oohs and aahs. Often as I lift the printed image from the inked plates before many pairs of incredulous eyes, I am treated to a hearty round of applause. After observing images of African masks, each student engraves a styrofoam plate and creates a print inspired by our theme.
Through the years I have streamlined the elementary school workshop to adapt it perfectly to the 60 minute format. I pride myself on keeping entire groups stimulated, curious and busy up to the last second before the bell rings, never going overtime.
Interacting with students is a joy. I asked a grade three class if they have artwork on the walls at home. One boy told me about a painting of horses galloping in fields, with flowers and a barn. “One horse is white and the other is black,” he added. A girl told me that her family has a big painting of the Red Square hanging in the living room. The teacher told us about her limited edition Norman Rockwell print, a winter scene bought at an auction. Everyone described these images with fondness and pride, demonstrating how strongly we identify with art.
When a new group walks into my class, I scan the unknown faces, watch them settle at their tables and try to guess who will produce original work. 240 students tend to become a bit of a blur and in the halls it is they who recognize me. I get spontaneous hellos, waves, smiles and even leg-level hugs from very little girls.
The children who manage to stand out in my mind are those who break the mold…and sometimes my patience! One grade two boy was chock-a-block with questions, never related to the present situation, always in anticipation of what lay ahead. He was also the student who persisted the longest at his print, paying attention to detail and texture, just as I required. As he observed his print, he said, “I think there’s an artist in me!” When I saw him in the hall on my last day, his blue eyes gleamed behind his glasses and he said, “I so much want to make another one!” At that point I knew my mission was accomplished.