Archive for the ‘Creativity’ Category

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A Tender Bridge

October 22, 2018

Composer Aaron Robinson

In August I was excited to read in the Maine Sunday Telegram about the work Maine composer Aaron Robinson was doing with artist Ashley Bryan. Aaron happens to be a former student of mine so I reached out to Aaron to learn more.

Ashley Bryan

Aaron Robinson collaborated with Ashley on an African-American requiem for chamber orchestra, choir and spoken voice.

He’s calling it “A Tender Bridge: An African American Requiem,” based on a Bryan quote: “I always confuse the past and the future, the way I mix up death and life – they are connected only by a tender bridge. This is why stories are at the heart of civilization.”

Thank you to Aaron for taking on this amazing work and for sharing the story. Truly a gift to the Maine Arts Education blog readers!
AARON’S OWN WORDS
Back to 1993 – starting out

Aaron Robinson

In 1993, when I was 22 years old, I began composing what most composers write in later life: a Requiem. My initial want was to incorporate the styles and idioms of the music I had become synonymous with: gospel, early jazz, spirituals, etc. I even took serious thought in writing the very first “Ragtime Requiem”. It seems foolish to say those two words together today because I was far too inexperienced to take on such an endeavor. So I opted to focus on incorporating the music of America; and by 1997 I had completed what is known today as “An American Requiem”. However, as my career in African-American music grew over the decades, the thought never left me to create a musical work that utilized these elements.

Sara Bloom’s vision
In February 2017, I was approached by Sara Bloom, with an idea she had been culminating for many years to “create a musical work for the great poet-painter-reteller of African tales, Ashley Bryan.” In early stages of discussion, the idea was first presented as a large work that involved Ashley Bryan with orchestra, adult and children choruses and soloists. What would evolve over the next few months from that initial seed of invitation was a monumental 90-minute work for full symphony orchestra, chorus, soloists, jazz ensemble (drum set, upright bass, B3-Hammond organ and jazz piano), children’s choir and narrators based on the Requiem mass in the African-American tradition drawing upon the writings of Ashley Bryan with biblical scriptures chosen by the author himself; along with specially selected poetry by African-American poets such as Nikki Giovanni and Langston Hughes.

Aaron, Ashley, Sara

Sara Bloom has served as consortium builder and coordinator; tirelessly assembling orchestras across the country to join the Bryan/Robinson Consortium. This allows special musical organizations that have joined the consortium the exclusive right to perform A TENDER BRIDGE between now and 2021 and call it a “premiere” within their cities. All praise and credit goes to Sara for her inspired idea for this incredible work featuring Ashley Bryan. Without her, none of this would have happened. Furthermore, she has given me the opportunity to fulfill a dream that has stayed with me for nearly 25 years.

Creative Portland is serving as fiscal sponsor for the consortium. They are absolutely fantastic and a tremendous asset to the state of Maine, sponsoring unique and specialized projects through the Arts.
Aaron in the world of Ashley Bryan
For months on end I did nothing but emerge myself into the world of Ashley Bryan while writing the Requiem: his writings, his art, his image (video and audio), and of course – in person. I had collected several passages from his poetry and prose that would serve as either narration or spoken accompaniment; but I still needed that unique Ashley Bryan touch.
The work is entitled A TENDER BRIDGE, taken from one of Ashley Bryan’s favorite quotes by Senegalese poet Leopold Sedar Senghor: “Je confonds présent et passé Comme je mêle la Mort et la Vie – un pont de douceurs les relie.” (I always confuse the present and the past. I mix Life and Death. A tender bridge relinks them.) But Ashley puts a special touch all his own in re-quoting: “I always confuse the past and the future, the way I mix up death and life – they are connected only by a tender bridge. This is why stories are at the heart of civilization.”
This is how Ashley and I worked together on this piece: I had gathered the 13 movements of the Requiem mass text, translated the Latin into English, and brought them to Ashley at his home on Little Cranberry Island. Although, I had already chosen text from his writing through the numerous books he has published, including his autobiography, “Words to My Life Song,” I wanted to have his personal touch within the work.
When I first sat down with Ashley at his table to review the movements of the mass with him, surrounded by endless toys from around the world hanging overhead, on the walls, shelves … everything, I explained the latin text and its translation and then asked what piece of writing might be appropriate to accompany each section. To watch him think, remember, create, formulate and muse into being a particular poem, scripture or piece of prose was absolutely astounding. At times he would silently get up from his chair and go to one of the many bookcases in his home and search for a book in a seas of books, bring it back to the table, thumb through its pages, and find just the right poem by an African-American poet that perfectly encompassed the message of the mass text. He is as fluent in French as he is English and at times would recite Rilke, and then in the next breath recall lengthy passages of biblical verse. Childhood recitations from 85 years ago were recalled as easily as that morning’s breakfast items. It was incredible.
Two components in the music
The music itself has two key components that are crucial to its composition. The first being that it draws heavily upon the African-American heritage. The idioms and genres found within A TENDER BRIDGE incorporate the entire musical history of the African-American: African chant, Negro and Gospel spirituals, southern church hymns, ragtime and early jazz, contemporary jazz and Gospel, interpolated with classical symphonic and choral music.
In the movement “Sanctus,” which is usually a joyful movement celebrating the text: “Holy, Holy, Holy, Lord God of Hosts! Heaven and Earth are full of thy Glory! Hosanna in the highest!”, I set the text as a spirited ragtime Two-Step. Also, most Requiems end with an angelic “In Paradisum” (May the angels lead you into paradise, may you have eternal rest), symbolizing a peaceful, quiet transition from life to death into Paradise. However, what many people do not realize is that: “In Paradisum” served as the inspiration for “When the Saints Go Marching In,” which share the same first four notes, is similar in textual meaning, and is used during the funeral procession from the church to the cemetery.
In the African-American culture, death is not an ending but a bridge to the afterlife; which should be celebrated here on earth for the departed: not mourned. So I used James Quinn, S.J.’s translation: “May Flights of Angels Lead You On Your Way” and wrote a foot-stomping, hand-clapping Gospel Spiritual that will have everyone who is singing, performing and listening on their feet in celebration.
The second key component is that it mirrors the life and works of Ashley Bryan through music. For instance, the musical interlude that precedes the “Kyrie” depicts Ashley combing the beach on Little Cranberry Island for shells, glass and various objects for his puppets and stain glass windows. The “Dies Irae” (Day of Wrath) draws upon Ashley’s days as a stevedore in the battle of Normandy; while the “Libera Me” (Deliver Me) evokes the jazz sounds and rhythms of his birth place: Harlem.
Storyteller
But I did not want this requiem to simply be a musical composition. I also wanted to integrate the storytelling aspect into the work since Ashley Bryan is a storyteller; and what is life – but a story?
One of the first lines we hear Ashley say in A TENDER BRIDGE is his own: “BEAT THE STORY DRUM! PUM! PUM! TELL US A BIG STORY!” – that is how the narrative element of the work begins.
What first appealed to me with Ashley Bryan’s writing was the same message that I kept finding throughout my journey in music over the past 3 decades: universality – bridging the gap; celebrating one’s culture by inviting all to partake equally.
Growing up in the backwoods of Maine, ignorant to the vast diversities of race, creed and color, the only education I experienced came from the music I listened to as a self-taught musician. When I grew older, I realized the barriers that were placed around most of this music were man-made; yet the message behind the music was universal – it had no barriers.
There is nothing more universal than life, death and love: which is what A TENDER BRIDGE is all about. The story tells the journey of a single man – the narrator / caller – who, when we first meet him, represents humankind: each of us. As the story unfolds, we realize the narrator is actually Christ, as we are all Children of God. There is a moment following the celebratory movement “Sanctus” when life is joyful and jubilant, the “valley” occurs, and the narrator feels he is abandoned by God. He says, “And so it begins … Father, if you are willing, take this cup from me.” We all have these “cups” in life; and ask God to take it from us.
The work then continues with a famous Langston Hughes poem: “At the Feet o’ Jesus” that the narrator sings A Cappella, before breaking off with emotion and saying: “Lord? … Lord?” but does not receive an answer. The choir then sings “Communion” while the voice of Ashley Bryan reads the familiar scripture, “The Lord took bread, and when he had given thanks, broke it …”
Another character in A TENDER BRIDGE is a single child. The child is first seen as being frightened by a storm. She portrays innocence – what we are born with, what we lose, and what is found again – and in the end: takes us to paradise. It is the child that calms and leads the narrator into Paradise, with the words spoken by Ashley: “And a child shall lead them.”
The work itself is similar to the format of Leonard Bernstein’s MASS – in that there are characters that take the form and role of storytellers, participants and soloists. They are representational of us all as we travel through life to the other side via the movements found within the liturgical mass. Ashley’s voice – which we hear but we never see him – represents the answers to our questions, gives us comfort, shows us guidance, and unconditional love – but more importantly, he is the voice of God.
Ashley’s voice
I went to Ashley’s home and recorded him speaking the lines for A TENDER BRIDGE. These audio recordings will be used in each premiere and performance of the work. There are several familiar Ashley Bryan lines that are incorporated into the work: “Let us walk together, Children!” and the final line of the Requiem: “There’s a great camp meeting in the promised land!”
I visited Ashley in July 2018 to play the finished work for him on his piano at his home. While I played, he read his own words. It was incredibly moving for me; and one of the most rewarding performances in music that I have ever taken part in. After performing the movement “What then shall I say? Poor child that I am?,” Ashley said, “That’s so beautiful, I could cry.” There were many tears, I can tell you.
Interesting Story: I wrote the music for the section “Communion” as an A Cappella choral setting; but wasn’t entirely happy with it. I thought it “lacked something”. Later I chose to place the well known African American spiritual “Let Us Break Bread Together” as a soprano descant above the choir. Several months later, long after A Tender Bridge was complete, while watching the film “I Know A Man … Ashley Bryan” by Richard Kane at Mayo Street Arts Center – there was a scene where Ashley Bryan was playing the piano in his home several years prior … and what hymn was he playing? “Let Us Break Bread Together”. That is the magic of Ashley Bryan.
History
There has never been an African-American Requiem. Duke Ellington wrote 3 sacred concerts for The Grace Cathedral in San Francisco (but he specifically made sure not to write a liturgical mass) and Quincy Jones wrote a Black Requiem but it was actually an oratorio written for Ray Charles depicting the life and the African American from the slave ships to the Watts Riots. Jazz has been incorporated into the requiem mass: Vince Guaraldi at Grace Cathedral was the first, Karl Jenkins, Andrew Lloyd Webber, etc.
A moment in time made clear
In working with Ashley and having the privilege of collaborating with him on a creative level, I have come to realize that I have been witness to someone who has come close to what is called: “Nirvana.” Perfect peace and happiness here on earth, like Heaven. There is an endless flow of people, an exodus of admirers, followers, who travel to Little Cranberry just to have a moment with Ashley, to see his artwork, to hear his voice, to take something away with them – a small piece of Ashley – that they will cherish and never forget.
He is one of the few people that I have met in this lifetime that when you are with him, you feel as though you are the only one who exists. Nothing is fake, nothing is forced; everything is genuine, real and unconditional. The outside world ends at the dock by the water and you are transported for a brief moment into a realm of absolute purity, understanding, honesty, generosity, caring, acceptance and love. He is still very much a child at heart; and has remained child-like with the purest of qualities. You feel as though he believes in you without ever having said a word to that effect. Like the birds in his stories, you feel as though you could fly home across the water … who needs a boat?
There is a musical called “Once On This Island” based on the story “The Peasant Girl” by Rosa Guy. It is one of my favorite musicals of all time. The last lines sung within the play are: “Life is why: We tell the story. Pain is why: We tell the story. Love is why: We tell the story. Grief is why: We tell the story. Hope is why: We tell the story. Faith is why: We tell the story. YOU are why …”
Life, pain, love, grief, hope and faith can all be found within A TENDER BRIDGE; and Ashley Bryan is why I tell the story.
The future for A TENDER BRIDGE
From the beginning, Sara Bloom has envisioned a premiere in Maine – with Maine soloists and performers. Since Ashley Bryan has called Maine his home since retiring to Islesford in the 1980s, and Sara has been friends with Ashley for as many years, she thought it only appropriate that a premiere should take place here.
As someone who can trace his lineage back 12-generations, born in Camden, and recognized as an American composer from Maine, it is my hope – and the hope of all those who are involved with this project – that this will take place here, as well.
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Recognizing Ashley Bryant’s Work

October 21, 2018

Portland

It’s all come together around Ashley Bryan. Art exhibit, theatre performance, film, a visit to Ashley’s home, and a requiem.

This blog post (and more to follow) will provide information about what is presently underway to recognize the work of Ashley Bryan. Ashley is 95 years old and has lived on Islesford – Little Cranberry Island – year-round since he retired from Dartmouth College 31 years ago. He first came to Maine to attend the Skowhegan School of Painting and Sculpture in 1946. Ashley is a poet, storyteller, painter, puppet maker, illustrator, printmaker, and musician. He has written or illustrated over 50 children’s books. He is alive with imagination and creativity!

Ashley with his puppets Babatu and Osaze

I’ve blogged about the exhibit of Ashley Bryan’s at the Portland Museum of Art that opened in early August and will be remain until November 25. Contact the museum to arrange a trip for your students to visit. And, plan to go with your family and friends. I’ve shared information about the film (and the shortened version) created for schools by Maine film maker Richard Kane called I Know a Man… Ashley BryanThe film is available for public libraries and K-12 schools on DVD.

This weekend and tomorrow at the University of Southern Maine one of Ashley’s books, Beautiful Blackbird, which was created into a play, will be performed. Below is information from three people representing the three organizations who have collaborated to make the exhibit and the performance possible.

  • Catherine M. Anderson, Director of Ovations Offstage
  • Marcie P. Griswold, Director of Visitor Experience and Special Programs
  • René  Goddess Johnson, Coordinator of Multicultural Affairs, Education and Events, Executive & Artistic Director of the Theater Ensemble of Color

Beautiful Blackbird, words and illustrations by Ashley Bryan

Inspired by a traditional story from the Ila-speaking people of Zambia, Blackbird tells the uplifting tale of the only bird in the forest to have black feathers, and his lessons for the other birds, who are envious of his beauty. The moral is that of tolerance, understanding, and self-love, and this limited-run production promises to empower and entertain theater-goers of all ages.

René Goddess has been working with children for 17 years as a nanny, an improv movement teacher and actor at event’s like Portland Stages Play Me story events. She chose not to communicate with the theater group who performed Beautiful Blackbird at the High Museum in Atlanta so she would not be influenced. Instead she has envisioned this completely with the local artists of color as inspiration.

In René’s own words: “Ashley’s work is somehow complex and simple and always stunning. His love for children and their ability to imagine the best in humans is what excites me the most about bringing this to a live stage. His art is complex because all humans, regardless of age, understand depth. The lack of intricate detail on the beautiful creatures, with this particular story, allows for young people to conjure the story around the character. The self love of blackness in all his art has always drawn me to him. Growing up in a place like Maine, where white teachers made me generally feel shame for my blackness, his work gave me options that were positive and affirming. Bring messages of growth in humanity is what theatre does best.”

From Marcie Griswold

At the PMA, collaboration is key. We’re always looking for new access points to visual art; music, dance, and theater provide a magical connection to works of art. Atlanta’s Alliance Theatre had staged two plays based on Ashley Bryan’s works, Dancing Granny and Beautiful Blackbird, which complemented the run of the Bryan’s exhibition at the city’s High Museum. After our Learning & Interpretation colleagues witnessed the magic of that show, we felt the programming would be a fabulous component to our own iteration of the show and to Maine audiences generally.

We needed a collaborative partner to whom we could give this project with the knowledge that the PMA is not in the business of theatre arts. It is only through a creative collaboration that we could bring this work to life. As an institution, the PMA seeks to amplify artists — and this was a great opportunity to continue that practice. The original production and musical accompaniment, written by Theroun Patterson and Eugene H. Russell III, calls for creative movement and vibrant voices; TEoC and Portland Ovations fit the bill for an exciting collaboration.

A quote delivered to PMA from Theroun Patterson and Eugene H. Russell III:

“All of the dynamic elements of theatre are in the Ashley Bryan’s story of Beautiful Blackbird: a great story, positive and affirming messages for young and old alike, and of course, it’s musicality. Having the show travel north exemplifies what is great about the Theatre Arts and Artists: we are a massive hive of shared work! We are each probably no more than three or four degrees separated from someone that has had at least something to do with almost any play out there. It’s what we do. We create. We pass on. We learn. It’s a beautiful ecosystem.”

From Catherine Anderson

When we had the opportunity at Portland Ovations to collaborate with University of Southern Maine to produce the first staged reading of the opera “The Summer King” about the Life of Negro League Ballplayer Josh Gibson in 2014 we had a similar long range goal that was realized. The full length opera The Summer King has been presented at the Pittsburg Opera in 2017, and the Detroit Opera earlier this year.

From the first moment I was contacted by the Jen Deprizzio/The Portland Museum of Art in early 2017 to explore Ovations interest and capacity for supporting this project, Ovations Offstage was in a full-on YES mode. It is a rare and miraculous thing when an offer to work with a trusted and respected partner comes to you with a collaboration offer on a project that you fully believe in before you have even arrived at the table. It was humbling to be at the table with the PMA, and the leadership of the Theatre Ensemble of Color during the various incarnations of this project.  Marcie and the PMA were instrumental in making sure that Ovations and the PMA came this concept of “amplifying” Theatre Ensemble of Color every step of the way. What that meant to Ovations Offstage was always looking for opportunities to make the realization of bringing these performance(s) to fruition as easy as possible, and with as many opportunities for shared learning, and celebration. From lighting design plans, to marketing materials our collective mission was to see this project to where it has arrived; four sold out performances and a wait list with 500 people on it!

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Festival of World Cultures

October 19, 2018

Street painting

Measuring, calculating, figuring, drawing, watching the weather, problem solving, thinking and creating! This is a great example of how “art” encompasses so much more than “art”. Not to mention it speaks to human emotion! Check out the street painting by Edgar Muller who created “The Crevasse” on a huge concrete pier at the Festival of World Culture in 2008.  Share with your students! The Crevasse – 3D Art. When I was teaching my students created “street art” after watching a video of street artists in Italy. They were amazed and inspired and I was also – every time I watched the video.

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Carol Trimble Award

October 16, 2018

Kate Smith – CONGRATULATIONS!

During the pre-MICA Arts Education conference at USM two weeks ago the Carol Trimble Award was presented to Kate Smith. The award is presented to an educator who contributes exemplary service to the Maine Arts Assessment Initiative/Maine Arts Leadership Initiative (MALI) for their commitment, collaborative spirit and contributions. Carol Trimble was an amazing advocate for arts education. She retired as Executive Director from the Maine Alliance for Arts Education. The award was established in 2013 to honor Carol and her work.

Kate with one of her third grade classes with her Carol Trimble award.

Kate is an energetic music teacher currently teaching music to 430 preK-third grade students at Central Elementary School in South Berwick, Maine where she has been since 2003. Kate earned her music education degree from USM and a Master’s degree in Technology in Education from Lesley University. Kate was honored as 2014 York County Teacher of the Year for her passion for innovation and creativity. Kate serves as a teacher leader and design team member for the Maine Arts Leadership Initiative, the Parade Coordinator for South Berwick’s annual Lanternfest and a coordinator for Central School’s farm-to-table program. Kate lives in southern Maine with her amazing husband and three children.

Music Educator Kris Bisson, Kate Smith, teaching artist Brian Evans-Jones at the MALI Mega 2018

Kate is well respected in the education world, not only for music but for her work continuing work with the outdoor classroom at Central School. Kate is a remarkable grant writer and many learners of all ages have benefited in her school and community. She has presented many workshops on a variety of topics for conferences at the local, regional and state level. Her most recent was for the Pre-Maine International Conference on the Arts (MICA) leading the music/dance session and at the MICA facilitating a panel discussion with teaching artists and PK-12 arts teachers.

Kate presenting at the MALI summer institute 2017

In 2014 Kate became a MALI Teacher Leader and willingly shared her enthusiasm for learning. In 2015 she was part of a MALI team who traveled to  Washington, D.C. for the Teach to Lead Summit. Kate enthusiastically embraced the Logic Model the team was introduced to and ever since has guided the MALI work. Kate is so engaged in how the model can impact each of us she often stays up late writing logic models. She is the
“Logic Model Guru”. Her excitement of having the then US Secretary of Education Arne Duncan sit at our table at the summit was contagious. In 2015 Kate became a member of the team who guides the MALI work where she continually gives 100% with every task and responsibility. Kate has co-led the work with the MALI Teaching Artist Leaders introducing them to the many facets of teaching and learning. Her experience working with teaching artists in her school/community has enhanced learning opportunities for many. Kate is dependable, collaborative, honest, a life-long learner, has high expectations, fun to be around, and totally committed to whatever she takes on.

I had the pleasure of traveling to Islesford with Kate at the end of the summer to meet and visit with Ashley Bryan. It was a remarkable and very special gift. Kate was so inspired that on her return she incorporated what she learned to pass on to her students and colleagues. Kate has the ability to process quickly and put ideas into action without hesitation.

With Arne Duncan, Teach to Lead Summit, summer 2015

Catherine Ring, co-founder of MALI, Executive Director of the New England Institute for Teacher Education and Visual Art Educator, has worked closely with Kate and said the following about her: Kate is an inspirational leader for arts education. She is an intelligent and passionate advocate for the arts and it’s been a pleasure to work with her for the past 6 years at the Maine Arts Leadership Initiative.

Kate took a moment out of her busy schedule to answer a couple of questions for the Maine Arts Education blog readers.

On Islesford visiting Ashley Bryan

What’s your favorite part about teaching? How do I narrow it down!?!  When you see students not only master what you’ve taught them but then own their learning. Hearing students hum, sing, or whistle the songs I’ve taught them. The joy on my students’ faces when they are creating, performing, listening and responding to music. Hearing parents say how much they love hearing their children sing in the car, at the table, in the bathroom, or in bed when they are supposed to be asleep. Knowing the children are making precious memories by sharing their singing, playing and dancing with their parents (and grandparents!) makes my heart sing!

Kate Smith, 2018 Maine Teacher of the Year and MALI music educator Kaitlin Young, Argy Nestor, Pre-MICA 2018

What are you most proud of from your career as an educator? The relationships I have made. Someone once said, in order to raise yourself up you must surround yourself with people you aspire to follow. I have been able to learn from incredible educators from across the state and region through the Maine Arts Leadership Initiative, the Maine Teacher of the Year Association, USM, Lesley University, the Marshwood School District and countless other networks. There have been people who challenge me, inspire me, stretch me, believe in me. They’ve saved me a place at the table, encouraged me to use my voice, to amplify my students’ voices and have taught me to expect more from our legislators and policy makers.

CONGRATULATIONS KATE SMITH – this years awardee for the Carol Trimble Award!

Previous recipients include:

  • Catherine Ring and Rob Westerberg
  • Bronwyn Sale
  • Jeffrey Beaudry
  • Charlie Johnson

 

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New Experiences – Raegan’s Story

October 15, 2018

“Winging It” by Raegan Russell

Raegan Russell is a visual art educator at Berwick Academy who was on sabbatical last year. I hope her story inspires you (and perhaps your students) to think about challenging yourself in a new and different way. This is her story…  

This post was written by Raegan Russell for the Berwick Today Magazine, Summer 2018 issue

“View from my window this morning. I’m off to my service site and have butterflies in my stomach. In addition to teaching the young women some printmaking, I’ll be learning their crafts, taking care of babies, pigs, and frogs, gardening, repairing buildings, and whatever else they ask…”

So began the first days of my sabbatical, for which I traveled in Southeast Asia for service, exploration, and art-making. Early on, I joked to my students and colleagues that I was taking a gap year, a semester abroad, or some version of the Eat, Pray, Love journey. For two months, I lived out of a backpack, stayed in hostels or homestays, and sought out local restaurants, cheap digs, and real communities. I traveled to Thailand, where I worked with women and children in crisis outside of Chiang Mai, then on to the temples of Angkor Wat in Cambodia, and later explored the bustling cities and stunning beauty of both the landscape and the people of Vietnam. The trip was an adventure for me, and even though I consider myself a well-seasoned traveler, I knew that it would throw me out of my comfort zone and challenge me.

“Highlights from this weekend’s trek to Ba Panden village in the hills north of Chiang Mai. Eva and I hiked 9km up to the village of the Lahu people. I swam in a cool waterfall, rode a raft down river, hiked through bamboo forests and rubber trees, and was kept up all night by a pack of crowing roosters…”

Throughout my trip, I had my sketchbook by my side. I drew the ancient Bodhi trees in Chiang Mai, the temples of Angkor Wat in Cambodia, and the motorbikes of Hanoi. As I was drawing Ta Prohm, a beautiful temple nearly overtaken by lush trees and moss, a tourist questioned me about why I didn’t just take a picture of it. I answered truthfully that “this is how I notice and experience things. I will remember the heat, the smells, the beauty, and even the discomfort of sitting here on this hard rock when I look back at this drawing.” The sketchbook drawings from my trip became the springboard for the work that I have taken on since I have been home and in my studio in South Berwick. As an educator who has always balanced teaching with studio practice, this sabbatical has given me the rare gift of time to develop new work. The subject matter of my new paintings has pulled closer to home, and the vibe of the work is exploratory and a truthful expression of how I experience the world.

“Yesterday, I made my way to Wat U Mong, where I found the oldest (?) Bodhi tree in Chiang Mai. It took some getting to, but I was able to paint for several hours directly from the tree. This was an experience I will not forget.”

Nearly two days after I took off from JFK on a cold evening in January that made me rethink my choice to travel light (with only a light down jacket that could roll up into the size of a softball), I landed in Thailand. I had specifically sought out a service opportunity that focused on women’s empowerment, and found the perfect project in the northern hills near Chiang Mai.

After a three-day orientation on Thai language and culture, I began my service project at the Wildflower Home, a shelter for single women and their children directed by two intrepid and compassionate women, sisters Anurak and Siripon. My mornings were spent minding the children in the daycare and teaching the mothers printmaking and artists’ books in the afternoons. The artists’ books were a hit, as many of the mothers transformed them into baby books and journals, quickly discovering that they could sell them with the many other handcrafts and goods they make.

All of this work was accomplished without a shared language between us; I learned a little Thai and they learned a little English. We became friends and laughed together while working. They welcomed me into their lives in ways that I never expected. Dao, a mother who headed the kitchen duties, taught me how to make Khao Soi, the region’s sublime dish of coconut milk, chili, and curry noodles over the wood fire stove in the home’s kitchen. The older children knew me as the art-auntie and would join in on our printmaking projects. As I left work every day, Fa, a young mother who has a beautiful daughter SaiSai, would shout to me: “Good-bye! See you tomorrow!” as I rode from the home on the back of Dao’s motorbike to catch the bus back to Chiang Mai.

“Sketchbook Sunday: a collection of sketchbook pages from over the last few months. My sketchbook has been a place for reflection, taking time to understand the world around me, and for gathering resources for work ahead. My sketchbook has always been by my side. It’s feeling kind of precious these days.”

I am lucky to have been able to maintain an art practice beside my work as a teacher. It has taken effort on my part, but it has been made possible with Berwick’s support and professional development opportunities; 20 years of conferences, workshops, and studio sessions have not only recharged me, they have broadened my perspective and provided me with a rich community of artists and art educators as friends and supporters.

My sabbatical has given me the opportunity to push pause in an extended fashion and appreciate the things that are important. I am grateful for this gift, and the adventure is far from over. I am excited to be planning a trip to Thailand over March Break 2019, where I will take students to engage in service projects like mine in Chiang Mai.

Closer to home, I was awarded a fellowship to paint on Monhegan Island in July. I dusted off the red backpack and packed up my paints to head to another place I had never been, where I let new experiences wash over me like the waves that wash over the dark grey rocks at the water’s edge.

Watch for a future blog post describing Raegan’s fellowship opportunity on Monhegan Island. 

www.raeganrussell.com/

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Everybody Loves a Good Story

October 11, 2018

Story Slam

Sweet Tree Arts in Hope presents “How I Got Here” – Story Slam! Friday, October 19, 7:00 p.m. Hosted by Hope Orchards located at 434 Camden Road in the big red barn. The doors open at 6:30 with pre-slam yummy apple pie and coffee. (Also served during the break). Tickets: $15 in advance and $17 at the door. PURCHASE TICKETS!

Kaitlin Young, 2018 Maine Teacher of the Year and music educator from SeDoMoCha School in Dover-Foxcroft will be one of the story tellers.

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Janie’s School on Dot Day

October 8, 2018

What did you do?

Janie Snider is an elementary visual art educator at Hancock Grammar School where she teaches students in grades 6-8.

I’m guessing that some or many of you and your students celebrated Dot Day in some way. Janie celebrated in a big way that impacted the entire school community. Student learning connected to analogous colors and also to kindness and being positive. Every student and staff member painted a dot, about 270 of them. Afterwards they were displayed in the school’s lobby for all to see and appreciate.

Janie is a Maine Arts Leadership Initiative Teacher Leader and this is her 25th year teaching. Janie has one of nine videos on standards-based education. This school-wide project is a great example of how Janie leads in her school. She said: “The Dot is such a great book and the dot is such a building block to so many great art works!” Peter H. Reynolds is an actor and illustrator and has done a great job connecting his book to a variety of curriculum and resources. Check them out at The Dot site.

If you did something at your school for “Dot Day” please send me an email so your idea can be shared with others on this blog. Thanks!

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