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All-Out Arts Immersion

All-Out Arts Immersion

In late July K–12 art educators from Rhode Island and beyond drew enormous inspiration and renewed energy from Grand Scale, the 2013 Teachers’ Studio Institute orchestrated by Professor Paul Sproll, head of the department of Teaching + Learning in Art + Design (TLAD). The weeklong professional practice studio “really fuels the teachers’ sense of being artists,” says Sproll. “It helps them to be more reflective about the making process and ultimately feeds the methodologies they use in their own teaching.”

The RISD program is unique in that it focuses intensely on hands-on making in the studio. Rather than attending lectures and seminars, teachers spent virtually the entire week in studios creating work and taking part in crits. At the end of the week, each participant contributed a large piece made on site to a show also called Grand Scale, which continues through this Friday, August 2 at RISD’s Sol Koffler Graduate Student Gallery.

After dividing into three groups, the teachers – many of whom are TLAD alumni – worked closely with the Institute’s artists-in-residence: RISD Professor of Painting David Frazer 70 PT, Professor Nancy Friese and Jane Masters. Each mentor got the creative juices flowing through a slightly different approach.

Masters encouraged her group to work off a grid and to mix true verticals, diagonals and horizontals with more organic shapes inspired by a visit to RISD’s Nature Lab. Private school art teacher Melissa Parks traveled from suburban Detroit to take part in the program. Her piece incorporates images of knights inspired by the Detroit Institute of Arts’ celebrated medieval armor collection, along with a handmade lobster print she created as an homage to Rhode Island.

Friese challenged teachers in her group to combine painting and drawing techniques and to seek inspiration from nature. “I’m not well versed in wet media,” noted Narragansett, RI middle school teacher Kristen Bryce as she studied the pitcher plant she was in the midst of painting. “I’m used to pencil, charcoal and pastels, so using the brush forces me out of my normal routine.”

Work in Frazer’s studios started with collage, with participants gluing layer upon layer of torn paper onto four-by-four-foot boards and allowing the theme of the work to emerge organically. During one crit, the group gathered around a collage by Cathy Van Lancker, head of the art department at the private Moses Brown School in Providence, as Frazer pointed out how she and her studio partner had consciously and subconsciously influenced one another. He encouraged participants to create little surprises for themselves in the studio in order to awaken the subconscious and connect to deep-seated, sometimes dreamlike ideas. For Van Lancker, an image of fish emerged and became the foundation of her finished piece.

What participants in the annual Teachers’ Studio Institute have in common, Sproll notes, is a willingness to step outside of their normal routines and take risks. Of course, the ultimate goal of the program is for them to pass that openness and sense of discovery along to their students when they go back to their classrooms in the fall.

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