Story and photos provided by the OSU Museum of Art
In the fall of 2018, the OSU Museum of Art Advocates and the Stillwater Public Education Foundation (SPEF) partnered to provide a $12,000 sponsorship to support art education in Stillwater Public Schools for the 2018-2019 school year. This partnership gave Stillwater teachers the opportunity to apply for grants that encourage interdisciplinary curriculum and classroom teaching that integrate visual arts.
Will Rogers Elementary art teacher Denise Ferrell was one of the first recipients of the SPEF grant. This grant funded each of Ferrell’s fourth grade classes to visit the OSU Museum of Art to view the Benjamin Harjo Jr. exhibition We Are a Landscape of All We Know. After the visit, the Art Advocates helped lead a unique cross-curricular project that integrated writing with art.
The OSU Museum of Art education interns led a customized tour for nearly 100 fourth graders, highlighting the significance of Harjo’s use of bright colors, shapes, materials, and meanings behind his work. After the tour, the classes went to the Prairie Arts Center where they experimented with gelli prints, a block printing process similar to what Harjo used to create his work.
“It was a one-of-a-kind experience to assist Denise’s fourth graders to explore Harjo’s work, a nationally-recognized Oklahoma City artist,” Art Advocate Carolyn Gang said. “The students were able to engage with materials and techniques unique to Harjo and not necessarily available in their everyday art classroom.”
Fourteen Art Advocates joined students and teachers at Will Rogers Elementary for four days to facilitate classroom projects that related to the Harjo exhibition. Students were challenged to complete art and writing activities by reflecting on their personal culture and recognize diversities within their school’s community.
OSU Literary Education Professor Dr. Sheri Vasinda worked alongside fourth-grade teachers Madison Anders, Zoe Hamby, Jordan Payne and Elisa Johnson to administer the writing component of the project. The students were introduced to the George Ella Lyon poem, Where I’m From; and were challenged to reflect on their personal culture and create their own memoirs.
Similar to the writing project, students translated Harjo’s techniques into a visual work that related to them, their heritage and their place in the world. The Art Advocates helped the students trace side-view silhouettes of the students’ heads, which were later decorated with gouache paint, shapes, symbols, descriptive words, and patterns that represented them. Both projects revealed dynamic ways to explore personal identities through art and writing.
“It was exciting for our Art Advocate group to work with these students and learn what makes each student a unique part of this world,” Art Advocate Jill Webber said. “The project at Will Rogers and the tour of the Harjo exhibition provided excellent demonstrations on how written communication can be translated into artwork. We believe cross-curricular projects such as this one have great educational value, and create memorable experiences for all students.”
The Art Advocates and SPEF partnership has provided grants to other Stillwater Public School educators, including Rebecca Palmatary at Westwood Elementary and Joey Parker at Stillwater High School. The grants funded new classroom materials such as a plasma cutter, Chromebook, and digital cameras to advance art education.
Stillwater High School students Kate Carpenter and Zach Belden produced a video featuring the grant impact on Stillwater classrooms. The video will be shown at the Masterpiece Moments event May 4, an annual fundraiser that supports OSU Museum of Art exhibitions, programming and community outreach. Hosted by the Art Advocates, Masterpiece Moments blends artistic table settings, auctions and community talent to generate opportunities for Stillwater students and make events such as the Will Rogers Elementary outreach project possible.