Archive for the ‘Arts Education’ Category

I hadn’t taught the high school camp for years, and it was incredible how fast they caught on and were just so hungry to learn. It was very rewarding, intense, and heartbreaking to understand that even in normal times, they are not getting what they need, as far as being seen, being able to make things and respond to the world – and how much they have lost, the past couple years now, how mature they seemed, they have had to grow up fast.

We all need to support our young people, give them space and permission to be young people.

At Sitka Fine Arts Camp you don’t have to have ever done any art. In Alaska and probably other places art classes, if they have any in school in the first place, don’t teach drawing from observation. Fine Arts Camp classes are basically college classes, except in an hour a day for a couple weeks! these kids worked so hard.

Drawing and Watercolor

We worked outdoors, from the model, drew still lifes, and copied master watercolor landscape paintings as we learned the conventions of landscape and how to manipulate watercolor.

We had some very challenging exercises, like drawing a model, in a landscape, using water media or marker.


We did drypoint etchings, rubber cuts, wood cut, stencils and monoprints, and even wood engraving:

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In 2021 the Sitka Fine Arts Camp held a very special camp, at half capacity, with amazing students starved for art and being together. It was intense, rewarding, and heartbreaking what our kids have lost the past years. We all need to love our kids!

The classes I taught were Printmaking, Drawing and Watercolor, and Graphic Novel. At some point I’ll try to scan and upload some of the comics but for now, some of the prints and drawings:


The camp runs two weeks, so days to work is about 11 1́/2. Woodcut is a lot of work, we also did rubber cuts, monoprints, stencils, collagraphs, and etching on both metal and plexiglass. Creativity is never a problem.

Drawing and Watercolor

We focused on what students wanted to work on, and did a lot of work outdoors, from a model, and finally of flowers. These kids worked so hard and were so focused. One day we were at the beach drawing, and a young deer, whose habit it apparently was to cut through the beach at that tide, came right up to our group, and after hesitating, made his way through the group. Of middle schoolers. Who were absolutely calm and thrilled. Not a typical group of young people!

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For Sitka Fine Arts Camp Musical Theater Camp 2021, I got to design and build a set! Went for texture in the organic sculpted scenery, and atmospherics with recycled fishing nets (from Nets And More of Louisiana). Rapunzel’s tower, stage left, accessed from the front by the witch.

Costumes Sharon Morgan, Lighting Elle Campbell, Directed Zeke Blackwell, Musical Direction Chris Coffey, Choreography Erin Coffey, Stage Manager (and so much more!) Josh Euten, Pianists Susan Reed and Chris Staknys, Vocal Coach Rhiannon Guevin, Assistant TD Emily Harris, Sound Drew Sherman with Bryan Lovett, Props Abby Taper, Deck Boss Sotera Perez, Mic’ing Shannon Haugland, Costume Assistant Sonia Lewis, Makeup Micah Wayman, Sound Assistant Hal Sufrin, Lighting Assistant Campbell Pillifant, with Téa Neilson (these last four were our Technical Theater students and did all kinds of things), Poster Artwork by Nate Olson. It would not have been possible without help building the set by Emily Harris and volunteers Noatak Post and Julien Riviere.

We had a full-on, pure and exquisite performance by a professional pit orchestra: Susan Reed, Chris Staknys, Dorothy Orbison, Colin Roshak, JJ Sechan, Amy Sanchez, Taylor Young, Brian Neal, Roger Schmidt, Franz Felkl, Noatak Post, Kelly Dylla, Julien Riviere, Annika Krafcik, Drew Dembowski and Paul Cox.

Actors: Zia Allen, Paige Antrobus, Anja Brooks-Schmidt, Mina Brooks-Schmidt, Bronwyn Embree, Claire Evans, Aitana Gluth, Noah Gosnell, Miko Hare, Winston Katoanga, Spencer LeFebvre, Felix Lewis, Sagan McLaughlin, Kadence Patton, Virginia Pearson, Helena Provencio, Chase Randall, Caleb Rapanut, Max Reynolds, Kate Springsteen, Zoe Springsteen, Emerson Tuggey, Kevin Viña, and Alona Whisenhunt.

All of the young people – the actors, and four back stage – are in high school or just started college. Best of luck to all of you. Wonderful work here.

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Creating using cardboard boxes and trash is the Number One activity in my opinion for kids.

I had the opportunity to work with children going into First and Second Grades at the 2021 Sitka Fine Arts Elementary Camp. This was over five days, in which (this year) groups of eight children came in for 45 minutes, also also went for 45 minutes each to three other classes in music, movement and ceramics.

The first two days, we looked at slides of paintings and then painted. On the next two days, we made constructions/houses/sculptures/environments/stories, starting with a shoe box, and using hot glue and Elmer’s, fabrics trims and yarn, papers, railroad board, and trash, such as toilet paper cores and interesting packaging (like the boxes phones come in).

The second day of this we had parents send special trash in with their kids, because what I had brought in was exhausted. Some of the things were surprising, like a used Subway drink cup, and a squeezed out tube of toothpaste – but the creativity of these kids knew no bounds: a drink cup became a cannon, the toothpaste cap a cup.

The second day we also gave them paint the last 10 minutes, if they wanted it.

The last day we all presented the work, which was amazing as well, the work and detail and humor that went into these creations.

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I had the opportunity to work with children going into First and Second Grades at the 2021 Sitka Fine Arts Elementary Camp. This was over five days, in which (this year) groups of eight children came in for 45 minutes, also also went for 45 minutes each to three other classes in music, movement and ceramics.

I showed them slides of paintings by Jackson Pollock and Willem de Kooning, and went around and each said something they noted in a painting. We then painted, using a limited palette of yellow, red and white, with paint on a paper plate, and mixing colors on a second plate, on 18 x 24 inch 80# paper.

The next day I showed pictures by Helen Frankenthaler and photos of her working, telling about her, and we went around and all told about one thing they noticed in one of her pictures. This time I gave them cups of paint, that they could pour onto the paper plate mixing palette. I told them to mix three new colors.

Autumn Rhythm by Jackson Pollock: this picture is over 17 feet wide, and is at the Metropolitan Museum of Art.
Canyon (1965)by Helen Frankenthaler, 44 x 52 inches, at the Philips Collection in Washington D.C.

The results were amazing, to my mind. What is most exciting though is their painting process, the way they really get into it, each in their own way.

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Oklahoma! by the Sitka Fine Arts Camp Musical Theater Camp, 2019

Directed by W. T. McRae. I designed and built this with the Best. Crew. Ever. Performed at the Sitka Performing Arts Center.

9 to 5, Sitka Community Theater, Spring 2019

My design, also at Sitka’s Performing Arts Center. Again had stellar crew, all community volunteers. Lighting design by J Bradley!

Fuddy Meers, Sitka High School Play, Spring 2019

This was also at Sitka’s Performing Arts Center. Did this in pretty short order, using as much as we could pieces from 9 to 5 – the Xerox machine is now the kitchen sink, and the “bed” from Once Upon a Mattress is transformed into the kitchen stove. That’s a real refrigerator, but we gave it the Avocado Green treatment. Created by community volunteers and the Sitka High School Drama class, directed and taught by Christian Litten.

Photos is with the upstage curtain open, right after I finished touching up the paint. It was closed for the show.

Once Upon A Mattress, Young Performers Theater, Spring 2019

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In 2018 I got to teach at the Sitka Fine Arts Camp Elementary School session. The camp groups students by age and rotates four sections of each age group through four different classes, in music, theater, visual art, and dance.

This year I had the 5th grade group, kids going into 6th grade, who came in for I think around 50 minutes each. Each group had around a dozen kids, and we had to set up, work, and clean up in that time before the next group came in. The camp was one week, so five mornings total.

The cleaning up is an important part of the process – young people actually like knowing what’s going on and they actually like cleaning up, especially sponging off the tables.

The first day I gave them watercolors, and had them try various techniques, with nice watercolor paints (they are Cotman travel sets, and over the years we have replaced the paint as it was used up with Daniel Smith watercolors) on 80# drawing paper. First we looked at some slides of the work of Helen Frankenthaler and Vasili Kandinsky, and told a little about those artists and periods.

Tuesday, we did observational drawing, of a wooden stool, doing fast draw, blind contour, then a longer drawing, then, if they had time, a smaller object of their choice. In this one I showed them basic drawing tricks, using angles, proportions, overlap, scale, and the trick of using the back ground, and the angles of the box the stool was on, to give their drawing depth.

Wednesday we drew the counselor, with the same drawing instruction, with the addition of learning to show the model respect.

Thursday we drew a still life of at least two objects, on the table near them. We didn’t do any warmups, but instead sketched on newsprint, then drew with pencil and outlined with pen or drew with a pen, then watercolor, on 80# drawing paper, using the various watercolor techniques from Monday.

On Friday, I set up lights and pushed the tables together, with the lights at one end, and kids sitting on the long sides of the tables. They did a quick draw then shaded (modeled) drawing of white styrofoam balls. Then, had them gather all their art, and put their favorite piece on top, and we did a little art walk, where each said something they liked about (someone else’s) picture.

One more thing was to have each kid at the end of each session put his or her work in a stack. I didn’t have any drying racks, so we arranged the stacks of pictures all around the edges of the room on the floor.

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Some Responses from the Faculty of the Sitka Fine Arts Camp, June 12, 2016

Before each camp, the faculty get together for orientation and introductions. In 2016, introductions extended to each of us telling why we teach. It made for a long meeting (!) but some beautiful expressions, and I took notes and am finally posting them here:

to give students an approach to learning

it is the act of giving in a genuine and meaningful way

to connect students to deeper reality

to give students tools for life

it is the act of recognition – of being recognized

empowering people

deep relationships

to counter capitalism

modeling strength for young Native people

collaboration – joyful

using skills and focus, the joy of creating

teaching allows me to question how and why I do my art

to teach problem solving

stretching by teacher and student

to learn empathy, confidence

the only way to make revolutionary, radical change

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gotham news 1957
Gotham News, 1955 by Willem de Kooning ( 69 x 79” Albright-Knox Art Gallery, Buffalo)

We looked at images of paintings by Helen Frankenthaler, Jackson Pollock, and Willem de Kooning, including pictures of the paintings in galleries, and Helen Frankenthaler and Jackson Pollock working in their studios, to show the very large scale of pictures in this school. I also told them where some of these pictures are, and had a snapshot of one (Small’s Paradise, by Helen Frankenthaler) I took in Washington D. C. in March.

I told them how Abstract Expressionism was painting that was not of something, but was the thing, in the words of Jackson Pollock. And how painting is a language, in which you can express things you can’t put into words.

The paintings they liked were both by de Kooning: Excavation and Gotham News, which is the one we talked about. The kids each noted something about the picture, and brought out the bright colors, and how it references people, dogs, layers, cities, noise, excitement, heavy equipment, Batman, buildings and other structures, without being pictures of those things.

It could be too that they were drawn to this picture because it holds up better on the rather dim “interactive white board” projectors the school has. You don’t get the benefit of the brilliant colors of Helen Frankenthaler’s work. We held up the laptop so they could get an idea of the brilliance of the actual paintings.

Inspired by the picture, they made paintings in the manner of Abstract Expressionism. I think some of them felt like they were being naughty, by using a finger or their hands, in making layer on layer, in using gobs of paint, and even in scraping back to get to layers below. But they were not naughty, they were all fully involved in the paint and what it was doing. This was the most energetic and focused group I’ve had, as far as everyone diving in.

We asked them to mix at least 3 colors, and this time not to make a picture of a thing but to paint with colors and shapes and lines, and to try different brush sizes.

As in other classes, each kid got a paper plate palette with primary colors and white, a yogurt container of water, paper towels, a plate to mix colors on, and they had had a short reminder of how you rinse your brush between dipping into the color.

We even had time to clean up and to spend a few minutes looking at our work.


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A Still Life by Henri Matisse

The very beautiful still-life paintings by Ms. Love’s Fifth Grade class in 2015. I’ve been meaning to put these up for a while. The students first learned about color mixing. They did these paintings in one session, painting from still lifes set up with colored cloths and fruit. They are done with tempera paint on canvas board (just because the teacher had some she wanted to get used!).img_2132smallimg_2133smallimg_2134smallimg_2135smallimg_2136smallimg_2137smallimg_2138smallimg_2139smallimg_2140smallimg_2141smallimg_2142smallimg_2143smallimg_2144smallimg_2145smallimg_2146smallimg_2147smallimg_2148smallimg_2149smallimg_2150smallimg_2151smallimg_2152small

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