Archive for February 3rd, 2012


Local Stories Project

February 3, 2012

Integrated arts project for rural elementary schools

Murals depicting the Kezar Falls mill and looms by South Hiram 4th graders

The Local Stories Project has a lot going on! Last years project was at South Hiram Elementary School, and one starting shortly at the Brownfield-Denmark Elementary School. If you aren’t familiar with the program, Local Stories is an integrated arts project for rural elementary schools; the visiting artist team is Laurie Downey and Gretchen Berg. Most often, they work with 3rd or 4th grade classes to help cover the Maine history requirement. They work with classroom and art teachers to develop a research unit on town history, in collaboration with the local historical society. Then Laurie and Gretchen come in for a one-week artist residency to help students develop both a permanent in-school mural and a lively theater performance. A celebratory public unveiling and performance follows. To see a short video on the process:

“Weaving the Fabric of Community” at South Hiram Elementary School, MSAD 55, was completed in the spring of 2011. In this project, 4th graders researched the history of the nearby Kezar Falls Woolen Mill. This focus fit neatly into classroom teacher Teresa Barnes’ yearly focus on Maine and the industrial era. Like many rural Maine towns, from 1890 through the mid 1970s the thriving mill was the economic center of the area. With the help of the Porter-Parsonsfield Historical Society, students interviewed local residents who were mill workers, and then went on the field trip and visited both the abandoned mill site and a local sheep farm. They studied the technology of creating cloth and weaving wool, and what the shift from hand weaving to automation meant for the local economy. Art teacher Cathy Adelman was closely involved as the project evolved, working with students on observational drawing, preparing sketchbooks for the project, and supporting the mural as it developed. The resulting mural and performance were powerful, expressive and demonstrated just how much the 4th graders had learned; an enthusiastic audience of over 200 parents and community members attended the unveiling and performance in April. The mural now hangs in the South Hiram hallways (see photos).

Title panel mounted in front hallway of South Hiram Elementary School, with border drawn from fabric swatches found in mill sample books

To help continue the benefits and arts-integrated learning methods modeled by this project, we also support ongoing collaborations between the historical society and the school beyond the project year. For example, this year at South Hiram there is now an “Artifact of the Month” program, where a volunteer from the Porter-Parsonsfield Historical Society comes to the school with an interesting item from their archives – pen and inkwell, a stovetop “toaster”, etc. – and tours it around the classrooms. Classroom teachers and art teacher discuss and plan units around these visits. In this way, the process of learning begun with the Project continues.

What a great opportunity Laurie and Gretchen provide for school communities. If you are interested in learning more and considering a project for your schools please contact Laurie at or call her at 207-625-3387.


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