Maine’s island schools pride themselves on the extent to which the education of children is truly aligned with the life of the community. More than just a grasp at “relevance” in subject matter, and far more than squeezing in an occasional field trip to a nature trail or a one-time school visit by a “real artist,” the education of each island child involves formation of close relationships with people and with place. On Maine’s year-round islands, students have the opportunity to explore the real science of their island ecosystems, to contemplate the civics of their town meetings, to cultivate a sense of belonging and of responsibility to a community, and to form long-term relationships with neighboring artists of all sorts.
As far as Skylar, Max and Emma are concerned, all these big words aren’t important. Having Maury come to school to do art is what’s important.
This summer, HighWater Studio on Matinicus Island will be hosting a show including the work of established island artists and of island students. “Locals—Island Work by Island Artists” opens July 5 and runs through Aug. 11. Teacher Pam Stock described how the art show idea took form: “David e-mailed me sometime in the middle of the winter and basically admitted that ‘Sometimes it’s dangerous when you have free time on our hands, and I’ve got an idea. I’d like to do a show this summer to benefit the school’.”
Dave Sears, a painter and the owner of HighWater Studio, uses the word “community” frequently as he describes his intentions for the show.
“Most of us live in some group or community, most of us are creative, hardworking and talented, and we have a lot to offer to our communities," he said. "As members of a community we also have an obligation to think about ways we can support and enrich the areas in which we live.”
Supporting the community in this case means raising funds for a small improvement to the island’s single, multi-age classroom. Emma, our seventh-grader last year, had organized the donation of a stove to our schoolroom, and the students are now looking forward to the replacement of the old sink and counter to make a little kitchen area in the one-room school.
Art is an important part of the elementary school experience on Matinicus with or without a show or a fundraiser. Artist Maury Colton has been volunteering as the art teacher in the Matinicus school when time has allowed over the past few years, wrangling sets for Christmas plays and year-end celebrations as well as more traditional weekly visits to the classroom. Toward the end of this school year, the kids were happy to see Maury not once but twice each week as they prepared for the year-end open house and the summer studio show.
“I work them hard through the winter,” remarked teacher Pam Stock. “There’s certainly no harm in two art classes a week!”
Art class with Maury is about trying out media and techniques, equipment and supplies that might be new, enjoying the process, and working toward a goal — which might mean allowing yourself a few do-overs.
“I treat them like adults in an adult art class,” Maury told me. “At one point with one of the kids’ work I felt like screaming, ‘Stop now, it’s great, don’t do anything more!' They try out different brushes, different kinds of paper, and we use professional-grade watercolors. For the kindergartener, even using scissors is a major thing! Each of the kids will have at least one framed work in the show, for sale. Mostly I really want them to get the idea that you can’t make mistakes in art. If you don’t like it, don’t panic — just get another piece of paper. I want the kids to recognize that nothing is going to explode.”
While sales of work at the show will benefit the island school, and some professional artists are involved whose work can command a high price in mainland galleries, more significant is the hope that the island kids will feel that the art show is theirs, and that the art studio is in a way “their place.” Not every child feels at ease in this rarified world, and not every art studio is welcoming (and that doesn’t only apply to children!) Dave, Maury and Pam hope that some of the perceived lines between island artists — often seen as “summer people” even when that isn’t quite accurate — and the children of the lobstermen who make up the student population will be blurred, that everybody involved will just see themselves as community members who take pleasure in art and who have a project in common. Dave Sears’ hope is that “this summer show will not only assist the island school but will encourage island students and adults to recognize and appreciate the talent and beauty that exists within their community.”
Dave puts it this way: “The school is in many respects the center of our community. An island school has the unique ability to pull together all the diverse and divergent aspects of our community to a common purpose of building the future. Over a dozen artists associated with Matinicus have donated work, with some of the most exciting work coming from the three island students who, working with the school’s resident artist Maury Colton, created watercolors especially for the show.”
As the students and Maury were getting ready for the open house at the end of the school year, where parents and neighbors would sit in the audience and be treated to a little review of the work they’d done that spring in art, kindergarten student Skylar looked at her mentor and reminded him, “Maury, you don’t have to be nervous, they’re all nice people out there!”
July 5 is a busy day for art openings. In addition to “Locals,” Maury Colton’s own show, “Space in Location,” will be opening on July 5 at Win Wilder Hall, 328 Main Street, Rockland with a reception beginning at 6 p.m. Bo Bartlett, also a Matinicus painter during the summer months, has a show opening at the Dowling Walsh Gallery in Rockland on July 5, as well. Dave Sears had a show last year at Archipelago; more information on his work is at www.dsearsart.com.
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