Archive | November, 2013

Beautiful Spiritual Murals by Native Artists

30 Nov
"January" by Sydney Kirkness, 1991

“January” by Sydney Kirkness, 1991

Sometimes we find ourselves touched in a profound way by the work of another artist. During the two weeks I taught in Joe A. Ross School, I had such an experience.

The school is shaped like an eagle, with wings outstretched for young learners to take flight. The hallways are structured off of a central square area and each of the four hallways is decorated with three large circular paintings that represent the spiritual transition of the months. Every day, as I entered the school, I walked past January, February, March….

"February" by Sydney Kirkness, 1991

“February” by Sydney Kirkness, 1991

I found myself affected by the art, absorbed into the artists’ dreams. The images made me feel connected to the land surrounding the school as well as to a spiritual vision of our human place in nature. I was busy with teaching young students, but finally, in the staffroom, I asked the questions that had come to mind. Who was the artist, Sydney Kirkness, who signed the paintings back in 1991? Some of the paintings were unsigned. Were those Sydney’s paintings too, or was there another artist? I was told the unsigned paintings were done by a very fine artist, Moses Bignell.

"September" by Moses Bignell

“September” by Moses Bignell

A kindly man, Pat Young, said, “If you want to know about Sydney Kirkness’s art, ask Agnes Kirkness, the painter’s wife. Sydney passed away two years ago. She’s over at the Otineka Mall.” The next day—my last day at the school, I was able to go over. I found Agnes, a beautiful woman with a soulful face, having lunch with family in the food court. I explained that I was visiting Joe A. Ross School for Artists in the Schools and had become interested in her husband’s art. She told me I’d been teaching her grand-daughter who had an artistic gift too. Later, when I knew which girl she meant, Cynthia Halcrow, I was delighted to realize I’d already spoken to Cynthia about her gift, noting a subtle confidence and charm in her illustrations.

Cynthia and Tricia, two wonderful artists

Cynthia and Tricia, two wonderful artists

Agnes kindly said she’d meet me back at the school at the end of the day, with articles on Sydney, so I would understand his work more. That night, in the little cottage on Clearwater Lake in which I was staying, I read the articles before sleep. Outside the cottage was the dark of night and the rippling blue lake while inside, I put on a fire in the wood-burning stove and I read about artist, Sydney Kirkness. As I pieced together his story, my understanding of North deepened.

"March" by Sydney Kirkness, 1991

“March” by Sydney Kirkness, 1991

As a child, Sydney was taken away from his family to be taught in the Birtle Indian Residential School, a tragedy experienced by Native Canadians until 1996. In an article, “Native artist reclaims his heritage,” by Jim Mosher, Sydney is quoted as saying “When I attended boarding school I lost my culture, my language, my native teachings.” Even so, at thirteen, a charcoal landscape won Sydney his first ribbon in the school art contest, and he realized that he might have a career in art.

Evening Comes to Clearwater Lake as I Read Onward

Evening Comes to Clearwater Lake as I Read Onward

In 1969, he ended up walking away from his art after graduating with a certificate from the Banff School of Fine Arts. “I just gave up…because my feelings were hurt,” Kirkness said in an interview, “I paint what I feel and when that’s destroyed, my painting is destroyed (“James Risdon, “New art techniques challenge Kirkness”). Sydney left art and drifted for ten years, during a desolate and lonely time. “I just felt empty without painting…I felt useless.” Then he returned to the place of his birth, Koostatak. “I had been lonesome. I wanted to return to my roots. (Interlake Spectator, Dec. 12, 1994)

Reading by the Wood Stove

Reading by the Wood Stove

As I sat in my cabin by the light of the fire, reading those words, I felt so moved. Such was the experience of the big-hearted man, Sydney Kirkness, who painted the beautiful spiritual murals I had walked past every day for the past two weeks. I could relate to his temperament. As so many artists have experienced, deep hurt can trigger self-denial and denial of one’s art and can create a perversion of one’s creative path. Sydney wandered lonely and broken for ten years. But the Good Red Road is always there, waiting for the traveller to return, and luckily, Sydney returned to his artistic path, a joy that I will delve into tomorrow….

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Sharing a Tale of Transformation

9 Nov
My Illustrated All-Ages Fairytale, Tiktala

My Illustrated All-Ages Fairytale, Tiktala

Another highlight of my visit to Joe A. Ross School was that I was able to read and share my all-ages fairy tale, Tiktala, with students in the three Grade Five classrooms who were good listeners and kind and receptive as I read to them. I told students that Tiktala started from a dream and the creation of Tiktala involved a five year process from the beginning dream to the finished published book.

Opening Page in Tiktala with Beautiful Illustration by Laszlo Gal of Inuit Homes and Northern Lights

Opening Page in Tiktala with Beautiful Illustration by Laszlo Gal of Inuit Homes and Northern Lights

To acquaint my blog readers with Tiktala, as the story opens, the elders of the village have called a meeting because the people are forgetting the old ways. We learn there are many soapstone carvers who sell their work for high prices but who don’t care about the animal spirits who enter the stones. Tiktala, an Inuit girl, lets the group know that she wants to become a soapstone carver. She is not like her mother who believes in spirits and she is not like her father who has lost his belief in everything.

Tiktala Lets the Villagers Know She Wants to Become a Soapstone Carver

Tiktala Lets the Villagers Know She Wants to Become a Soapstone Carver

Tiktala has her own reasons for wanting to carve—to be famous and admired, to make money to buy things, and above all, to gain her depressed father’s attention. While some villagers think she is too young, Iguptak, the wisest woman of the village sends Tiktala on a spirit quest.

Little would Tiktala have imagined it to be possible but she is transformed into a seal. Another seal appears, Tulimak, who is supposed to take Tiktala on the journey north for summer fishing. We discover that Tulimak is angry and hates humans for what she has suffered. Without a way out, Tiktala and Tulimak make the challenging expedition north together. What transpires is that Tiktala goes on a life altering journey, undergoing the artists’ task of learning to care about what she wants to create.

As it turned out, at Joe A. Ross School, the students were captivated by the story, and the teachers decided to purchase a class set of Tiktala books and my Tiktala Teacher’s Guide (Available on my Teachers Pay Teachers site. Readers can press on my link to find it. Tiktala can be purchased too through popular booksellers such as Amazon and Chapters and McNally Robinson (online and otherwise))

Tiktala Teacher's Guide

Tiktala Teacher’s Guide

My Tiktala Teacher’s Guide is a rich resource that explores First Nations concepts such as the connection to nature, shamans, vision quests, humans’ connections to animals, and spirit guides. I was so delighted to know that Joe A. Ross teachers would bring students through this study. As well, the guide allows teachers to explore with students the many deep themes in Tiktala: the hero journey, the development of the artist, revenge and forgiveness, environmental awareness, parent/child relationships, transformation, and human creativity vs. destructiveness. A further joyful aspect of the guide is the in-depth exploration of Laszlo Gal’s illustrations, after which students create their own illustrated transformation tales.

In my next entry, I will share with readers an unexpected pleasure I received during my visit to Joe A. Ross school, as I learned about captivating art created by a local native artist…

Refilling the Well in the Creative Process

8 Nov
Clearwater Lake--TheThird Clearest Cleanest Lake in the World

Clearwater Lake–TheThird Clearest Cleanest Lake in the World

In my novel, The Beech Nut of Big Water Beach, the mentoring elderly woman artist, Cassandra Beech, takes twelve year old Munro and Alison to paint at the sand cliffs. After they paint for the morning, she takes them for a walk on the shore and tells them not to speak, but just to listen. What Munro hears is the sounds of rolling waves, of wind rustling in the clifftop trees, of birds and gulls. The passage in the novel goes on:

“So the three travelled down the cliffs and along the beach, listening to the slapping waves and the crying gulls, all the while being absorbed into the beautiful dream of the day….Finally, the Beech Nut turned around and made her way back to Munro and Alison. Munro felt exhilarated, filled to the brim with everything around him.

The Beech Nut spoke to her two young apprentices. ‘That,’ she said, ‘is one of the most important parts of painting—of making art of any kind. When we pour our creative energy into our work, we have to take time to be refreshed. I call it refilling the well.’(74).”

During my visit to Joe A. Ross School, where I taught my novel, The Beech Nut of Big Water Beach and students engaged in anti-bullying activities from my accompanying guide, I was so fortunate to have my well refilled. Friends from my visit to the Pas last year, Barb McLeod and Tim Williams, invited me out onto Clearwater Lake for a picnic and picturesque ride on their pontoon boat. Like Munro, we were absorbed into the beautiful dream of the day…

Looking into the Water from the Boat

Looking into the Water from the Boat

Following the Shore

Following the Shore

Shoreline Down from The Caves

Shoreline Down from The Caves

Tim steered the boat toward The Caves (otherwise known of as The Crevices), a unique provincial tourist destination, deep crevices that formed when rock masses split away from the shoreline cliffs. To leap from rock to rock, up one boulder and down another, amidst high cliffs and slices of rock, all the while peering into cool dark recesses leading into the earth, is an exhilarating experience.

Passing Close to Shore

Passing Close to Shore

Back on Land, The Sun Sets on a Lovely Excursion on Clearwater Lake

Back on Land, The Sun Sets on a Lovely Excursion on Clearwater Lake

Tomorrow, I will share with readers more about the creation of art at Joe A. Ross School…

Creative Immersion

7 Nov
Evening on Clearwater Lake

Evening on Clearwater Lake

As artists, we are always interpreting our world, perceiving the beauty that surrounds us at any given moment. During my visit to Joe A. Ross School in The Pas, Manitoba, I helped student create with joy during the school day, after which I was immersed in the beauty of my surroundings on Clearwater Lake—a pattern lived everyday by teachers in the area!

Reading My Illustrated Fairy Tale Pod the Wood Elf to Students

Reading My Illustrated Fairy Tale Pod the Wood Elf to Students

During my visit to Joe A. Ross School, I had single sessions with the Grades One to Five. I read my picture book, Pod the Wood Elf, to Grades One to Four and lead students in lively illustrations of emotions.

Artists at Work

Artists at Work

Careful Creators

Careful Creators

A Fine Illustrator of Emotions

A Fine Illustrator of Emotions

Artists and their Art

Artists and their Art

Cree Immersion Students and their Proud Teacher

Cree Immersion Students and their Proud Teacher

Artists Share their Work

Artists Share their Work

All Smiles

All Smiles

A Lively Display of Emotions

A Lively Display of Emotions

What a joy to work with students at Joe A. Ross School as they created illustrations of emotions with such care and creativity! In my next entry, I will share more about the creative process….

Art to Enhance Learning

6 Nov
A Student's Creation of Cubist Art, from Joe A. Ross School in The Pas, Manitoba

A Student’s Creation of Cubist Art, from Joe A. Ross School in The Pas, Manitoba

When I work with students of any age, I draw comical figures on the board. A class that has seemed resistant to learning will immediately shift into openness. I believe this happens because the right brain offers a rest, a vacation, a happy excursion away from the over programmed left brain. I can literally feel the relief of visual learners—often a large portion of a classroom—when I bring in the visual art element. I explain to students that when I write, if I reach a writer’s block, all I need is to draw to release some new ideas.

Jane, Lisa, Becky, Jack, Mr. McLean, Nicholas, Mrs. McLean

Jane, Lisa, Becky, Jack, Mr. McLean, Nicholas, Mrs. McLean

I draw on the board in order to model drawing for students. An aspect of my novel for young people, The Beech Nut of Big Water Beach is that the main character, Munro McLean, is ridiculed in school for his advanced knowledge of art. In order for students to understand Munro—and to understand the art theme in the book—we Google famous artists and art movements—Picasso, Da Vinci, Reubens, Cubism, and more. Students embrace this increase in knowledge of art and of the theme of art in the novel. I was so delighted when I was explaining Cubism to students at Joe A. Ross School in The Pas, Manitoba, when a student handed me her visual comprehension of the idea, shown above.

Munro, The Beech Nut, Alison, Al, Mike, Dean

Munro, The Beech Nut, Alison, Al, Mike, Dean

As well, students draw the characters in order to underscore their understanding of the novel. I project or make a drawing of the characters that students can then use to create their own drawings. Of course, students are more or less skilled at drawing, so when I model how to draw, I help the less advanced artists. I stress that we all draw differently and at different speeds, and that we must respect our own progress. Practice improves artistic ability. Students at Joe A. Ross engaged wonderfully in the process of exploring the characters through drawing.

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Creative activities enhance learning, as all educators know. I was delighted to find that when teacher Myrna Ducharme taught The Beech Nut of Big Water Beach at Joe A. Ross School last year, she had students engage in watercolour painting in order to encourage them to experience the world of art so loved by the character Munro. Student paintings were beautifully done, and students’ understandings of Munro as an artist increased substantially.

Tomorrow, I will share some of the younger students activities….

Raising Anti-Bullying Consciousness

5 Nov
A Student's Experience of Bullying is Like the Realm Below the Surface of a Lake--Expansive and Largely Unknown

A Student’s Experience of Bullying is Like the Realm Below the Surface of a Lake–Expansive and Largely Unknown

If a writer of prose knows enough of what he is writing about he may omit things that he knows and the reader, if the writer is writing truly enough, will have a feeling of those things as strongly as though the writer had stated them. The dignity of movement of an ice-berg is due to only one-eighth of it being above water. Ernest Hemingway, Death in the Afternoon

When teaching students about bullying, we ask ourselves, what do students already know? They have all experienced the bullying scenario, as bully, bullied, or bystander. So often, bullying happens at home, with parents and siblings involved, while at the same time, bullying goes on among peers. A student’s experience of bullying is like the submerged iceberg or the realm below the surface of a lake—expansive and largely unknown. Our job as educators is to grow in our own understanding of bullying in our lives so that we can help students to bring to the surface of consciousness their own experiences of bullying in order to enact change.

Short-Listed for the Carol Shields Winnipeg Book Award

Short-Listed for the Carol Shields Winnipeg Book Award

The Beech Nut of Big Water Beach Novel Study and Anti-Bullying Guide makes this process of growing self awareness thoughtful and joyful, given that students become experts on the bullying actions of the characters in the book. To gain understanding is a life-enhancing process.

The Grade Six students at Joe A. Ross School engaged in several activities meant to enhance their understanding of the bulling scenario in The Beech Nut of Big Water Beach and in their own lives. One such activity involved brainstorming their understanding of bullying definitions, including bully, bullied, bystander, witness, as well as physical, verbal, and relational bullying. After students came up with their definitions, we expanded on more ideas and wrote those down. Then, students illustrated scenes where Munro was being bullied in order to underscore the concepts visually.

Involved Learners

Involved Learners

Classroom Reading with Margaret Shaw-MacKinnon

Classroom Reading with Margaret Shaw-MacKinnon

Immersed in the Story

Immersed in the Story

Teacher Crystal Ross and Students

Teacher Crystal Ross and Students

Students with Author

Students with Author

Student Illustrators

Student Illustrators

Busy Creating

Busy Creating

Involved Artists

Involved Artists

At Joe A. Ross School, students created admirable artwork, each drawing advancing students’ knowledge of characters in the book. The facial expressions on some characters reveal personality, while clothes reflect 1970’s fashion.

Wonderful Student Art

Wonderful Student Art

Tomorrow, I will share more student art…

Ethereal Mirror

4 Nov
Cottage on Clearwater Lake

Cottage on Clearwater Lake

Imagine teaching by day and staying in a lakefront cottage by night. Such was my experience when visiting Joe A. Ross School in The Pas, Manitoba.

After school, I hopped in the car and drove twenty minutes to my cottage lodgings where every evening I was immersed in the beauty of nature and the shifting fall weather.  Stand with me on the shore to take in the view.

Far Shore on a Windy Day

Far Shore on a Windy Day

Moody Autumn Colours
Moody Autumn Colours

Twilight

Twilight

Warming the Cottage at Night

Warming the Cottage at Night

Part of the experience of artists in the Artists in the Schools Program is that we encounter a great variety of beautiful settings throughout the province. Looking up, down, around, myriad images bring the viewer into greater awe at the mysteriousness and poignancy of the natural world.

A Bird Peers Back

A Bird Peers Back

Looking Up

Looking Up

Reflections

Reflections

Serenity

Serenity

Far Shore on a Calm Evening

Far Shore on a Calm Evening

Ethereal Mirror

Ethereal Mirror

In my next entry, I return to the richness of the teaching day…