Travel

Times and Places: Teaching art to children more fulfilling than I could have imagined

When you have an opportunity to re-invent yourself, you take it, or at least I did this winter. What I’m doing here in Salinas, Ecuador takes all my talents, skills, and capacity to learn.

I’m teaching art to children 11-15, at a school called Puerto Net, run by the Yacht Club here in Salinas. The children arrive during school hours and on their vacation (which is now) to learn computer skills, English, and now, Visual Arts and Performance Arts.

It began six weeks ago, when I was invited by my landlord here, Rick Racinskas, to give an art class. He is the president of the Rotary Club here who supports the school.

I had never taught Art but have been an artist since age 11 when I began to study oil painting at the Edmonton Art Gallery.

I had always thought I would spend my retirement painting. I had already begun with my friend of 40 years, Danielle Dubois, and my friend Albert Cormier, the Graphic designer at The Senior Times. We called it Art Attack and in the spring we had an exhibition and sale. Danielle and I fell in love with Oswaldo Guayasamin, Ecuador’s premiere artist, when she was visiting me here two years ago. It just so happens she was visiting again last month when I was asked by Rick to teach a class at Puerto Net. We immediately began to plan for a number of classes, not knowing it would become a regular twice weekly class.

She gave me a flood of ideas including different media and techniques, composition, abstraction vs. realism and together we came up with the idea of Guayasamin as a theme. And what a theme for these Ecuadorian children! Some had never experienced their artist or his home and museum in Quito. They were intrigued from the first class.

In that class I learned I was to have an air-conditioned room with three long rows of desks and use of the internet — both of these elements a luxury in Ecuador —and about 12-15 students all of whom, after the first class, committed to attending the class regularly for as long as I would remain in Salinas.

I had little faith they would but they have proved me wrong. They arrive early, eager to help me set up the tables with plastic covering and distribute the supplies, all of which I have bought or donated from what I had brought from Canada.

We started with collage on black paper, and the results were incredible. Every student was learning composition, having fun, and realizing that collage is a serious art medium.

From there we moved to coloured pencils, a medium I picked up in

Ecuador two years ago. I shared what pencils I had with them and bought more at the local art shop. We started copying and interpreting Guayasamin faces, which I downloaded from Pinterest, a website with all manner of arts and culture and a huge section on Guayasamin.

I taught the children about the colour wheel, the primary and complimentary colours, and they took to it like birds to the sky.

They bring their own personalities to their creations and learn from the master himself how to draw faces, hands and landscapes.

This is the way I learned to paint back in 1973 when I was in NYC at the 92nd street Y. We would copy and change great artists, taking a Manet and applying Cubism to him or cutting out a photograph, blowing it up and dabbing it with the end of a pencil covered in paint, thereby learning pointillism. I learned colour mixing and composition from these exercises and expanded my passion for mixing realism with abstraction, all of which I am passing on to my students.

We studied watercolour together. I have never studied watercolour and found it an interesting new medium.

From watercolour we moved to acrylic. It would be nice, yes, to have more monetary and material donations, but people here have yet to catch on. John Castillo taught the class with me and he is a Colombian living here who has three days off from his hairdressing job to volunteer, at the school. He also taught the children Performance Art.

Did I forget to mention that I am teaching the class entirely in Spanish?  John discusses with the children, the various emotions displayed in the paintings we view: misery, sadness, hope, fear, tenderness, love, generosity of spirit. His classes in movement and voice, expand on these emotions and along with my class, build self-esteem and self-confidence in these children eager for what Puerto Net gives them — access to the world of computers and now The Arts.

When I watch them do their art, I see them blossoming, expanding their modes of expression and feeling good about themselves in the process. John and I are quick to compliment and encourage them. while challenging them to learn techniques and artistic concepts.  They teach me as well and we are bonding.

For many of us, once you’re a teacher, you’re always a teacher, no matter what you teach.

On these pages, you will find photos of my students and their art. Enjoy — and think about what you might do with your skills and talents and passions, now that you are “retired.”

It began with a vernissage at our condo in Salinas, Ecuador — twelve children exhibiting their art to the community.

A few serious buyers showed up and thrilled the young artists by purchasing their work. Friends in Montreal also purchased some of the watercolours and coloured pencil drawings emailed to them by Barbara.

Shyly the children entered the condo with their parents, cousins, sisters and brothers, uncles and aunts and marveled at their artwork adorning the walls. The living/dining room table was set up for them to do more art, and Guayasamin postcards were piled in the middle with coloured pencils, oil pastels and watercolour pencils and crayons.

It didn’t take long. The children sat down and began to work. Once they had finished, others took their places, Two hours into the show and sale, the mothers took their seats at the table and began to draw.

It was an art love-in and the teachers, Barbara and John, were beaming at the new drawings and the participation of these proud parents who not only delighted in their children’s art but wanted to experience what their children had experienced for six weeks at Puerto Net School in John and Barbara’s Art Class.

Together we sold art totalling $300 and all the money went to the parents who will decide what to do with it together with their children. But that wasn’t the main focus of the show, which continued Sunday April 2nd from noon to 6. It was an artistic happening for the families, the artists, and the teachers. We are exhausted but so happy to have taught these marvelous and affectionate children what we love to do. The photos on these pages will show you how we feel and why.

We were so touched by what the parents wrote to us in a notebook we had prepared for the occasion. We cried when we read these letters full of gratitude and love for what we had provided for these children — an opportunity to become artists!

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