In the Studio: Encountering Art

New York City teems with visual art. From the sumptuous Klimpt paintings at the Neue Galerie and the moody Whistlers at the Frick to fantastical graffiti of the Lower East Side and playful mosaics at 72nd St. station, there are endless opportunities to experience art. Grace too, provides a feast for the senses. We are surrounded by student work of all kinds – some two dimensional, some three; some figurative, some abstract; some light-hearted, some somber and reflective. What goes into the making of these works? We looked into a sampling of projects to explore at Grace.
Kindergarten Self Portraits. For our youngest budding artists, creating art is less cerebral than sensorial. What does it feel like to hold a brush in your hand? What sound do the bristles make as they drag across the paper? Students explore these ideas as they tackle a daunting (at any age) feat: the self-portrait. "In Kindergarten, we are focused on the child and their experiences. The self-portrait is an introduction to the common practice of artists using images of themselves to represent their identity, personality, and unique artistic expression," notes teacher Justin Hawkins. The finished portraits hang in Tuttle Hall and are a joyful study in discovery.
Mandalas. As students advance, art becomes a multi-disciplinary endeavor. While studying Asia, for instance, art becomes a vehicle to partake in the tradition of another culture. First graders create their own mandalas. The process is intended as a meditative act, so art teacher Bev O’Mara plays Sufi music to inspire them as they carefully render outward spiraling patterns, and encourages them to remain calm and quiet. Students are prompted to hang the finished mandala at home and to gaze at its center to quiet the mind when feeling nervous or anxious.
Wampum Belts. As part of their Native American studies, the entire third grade works together to make squares of clay to become wampum belts. Art teacher Philip Robinson says, "It was important that the students not only understand the historical reference of the wampum belt, but also the connection between what they're learning in their history class and what they're creating in art class." At the same time, students have an opportunity to think about broader messages that art can convey, as they laid out squares to form words like “peace” and “love.”
Set Building. Fourth graders' art takes center stage -- literally -- as they create the sets for "Noble Odysseus, Destroyer of Troy," the play they mount to augment their study of Ancient Greece. For the student-actors, art is a means to build the world the characters -- their characters -- inhabit, and the process of creating the set becomes more meaningful as a result. The experience is completed at the performance, when their endeavors as creators are on view to a wider audience.
Sculptures in Paper. Middle School students use art as a channel through which they express their opinions on weighty subjects. A project inspired by Danish artist Peter Callesen has students use paper to create sculptures that combines both two and three dimensional elements. Says Oliver Berman '24, who chose to depict the world engulfed in flames, "Mr. Robinson had us use paper to create an image using positive and negative space. Global warming is something I'm very passionate about because if we don't do anything, in 12 years, our world will never be the same. It's up to us, the people, to fix the problem rather than waiting for someone else to do it, and I think a nice way to express that is through art."
Student artwork at Grace enjoys a steady process of renewal. New displays replace the previous ones, which are carefully packed away and brought home. Says Ms. O'Mara, "Artworks, when brought home -- whether they are put on display informally, framed and hung in a "gallery," or even tucked away in a portfolio to be viewed months or even years later -- take on a life of their own."