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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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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…

Northern Experience

3 Nov
Evening Sky and Forest near The Pas, Manitoba

Evening Sky and Forest near The Pas, Manitoba

Since September, I’ve been travelling to different schools throughout the province of Manitoba in Canada with Artists in the Schools, collecting blog ideas along the way. NaBloPoMo offers a great opportunity to commit to sharing the creative and anti-bullying experiences of students with whom I worked, while simultaneously providing readers with glimpses of the people, culture, and beauty of this part of the world.

Through the Manitoba Arts Councils Artists in the Schools program, I teach in schools throughout the province. As I enter through the doors of a school, I am prepared to find a distinct teaching culture made up of the educational mandate, the school ambiance and experience, and uniquely interesting people—administrators, teachers, and students.

The first school I visited this fall was Joe A. Ross, in the Pas, where I taught for two weeks at the kind invitation of Principal Karon McGillivary. In a display case at the entrance of the school, a plaque celebrates the highly regarded Cree man for whom the school was named. The plaque reads as follows:

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“Joseph Albert Ross was born on April 9, 1939 at the Pas. He was married to Cecelia Jebb on August 29, 1960. They had two sons, Glen and Mike, and one daughter, Lana. They also raised four foster children, Roger, Keith, Kenny, and Phyllis. Joe was a man for all seasons. He especially enjoyed the traditional life of hunting and trapping. During his later years, Joe spent much of his time in meeting rooms where he laid the foundation for Opasquiak Indian Days as well as played a key role in education on reserve. Joe was the Education Administrator for the Pas Indian Band (now known as Opaskwayak Cree Nation). This School bears his name because of his endless efforts—including enthusiasm and determination. He was especially concerned with the number of aboriginal youth dropping out of school. He knew and understood the difficulties that came with a limited education. He knew that by dropping out, youth were limiting their choices in life. Joe passed away in 1985. He had given his all for this school long before the first cornerstone was laid. In a way, Joe did help lay it’s foundation. The school was his dream. Joe was an exceptional man who had vast knowledge about many areas of life. Joe was a leader of many talents and abilities, a family man who earned the respect of many people, and an innovator who would have been pleased to see this beautiful school that promises so much learning…for so many people.”

Walking toward Joe A. Ross School on a Beautiful Fall Day

Walking toward Joe A. Ross School on a Beautiful Fall Day

Shortly after I arrived, Rosina McGillivary, Cree music teacher, brought me on a tour of the school to show me how the architecture beautifully embodies concepts significant in Cree spirituality. The entrance to the building has pillars that represent the stages of humanity from infancy to old age. The building itself is shaped like an eagle with wings to soar. The front doors face East, the direction of the rising sun and beginnings in life. So began my two weeks at Joe A. Ross School, about which I will continue to write over the course of this week…

Like an Eagle with Wings to Soar

Like an Eagle with Wings to Soar

Don’t Hide Your True Passion From Your Friends

18 May
Driving down the misty road leading to Scott Bateman School

Driving down the misty road leading to Scott Bateman School

Dear Margaret Shaw-MacKinnon,

Hi, my name is K.C.M.C.L. Thank-you very much for coming to Scott Bateman Middle School.  Thank you for all the valuable lessons on bullying and all the wonderful drawings you did with the class.

Drawing on the Whiteboard--Baby Nicholas Between his Parents

Drawing on the Whiteboard–Baby Nicholas Between his Parents

My favorite part is when all the boys told the truth about [their] lies and became friends with Alison and the Beech Nut. My favorite character was Nicholas. I loved it when you wrote baby talk for him. My favorite part is when he yells out “Munwo.” The valuable lesson I learned is don‘t hide your true passion from your friends and don‘t lie about who your friends are.

When I was in grade five, three girls would bully me at lunch because I sat in between them and there was one girl named M. who stood up for me. My Auntie is a teacher and I told her about your book and she is going to get it for her school to read. I loved the book. It was very good. Thank you for coming.

Sincerely,
K.L.

Artist and Students Draw The Beech Nut of Big Water Beach Cast of Characters

Artist and Students Draw The Beech Nut of Big Water Beach Cast of Characters

December 11, 2012

Dear K. C. M. C. L.,

Thank you for your kind letter about my visit to Scott Bateman Middle School and about your experience with The Beech Nut of Big Water Beach. I was pleased that you considered the lessons on bullying valuable! I was also pleased that you enjoyed my drawings because I love to draw.

I agree with you, that the happy ending in which the boys tell the truth and become friends with Alison and the Beech Nut is very satisfying. Also, it was fun to write baby talk for Nicholas. You really picked out important ideas about the book, that you shouldn’t hide your true passion from your friends, and you shouldn’t lie about who your friends are.

I was sorry to hear that you were bullied at lunch in Grade Five, but I was glad M. stood up for you! If the bullying ever happens again, you know that you can always go to a trusted adult like Mr. Popiel or the counselor, Mrs. Barb McLeod, for help, but it sounds as if it all worked out already.

Let your Auntie know that she can reach me through the Artists in the Schools website in the Artists in the Schools list of artists. I would be happy to come to her school!

Best wishes,
Margaret Shaw-MacKinnon

Canadian National Anti-Bullying Day

9 Mar
Sam Waller, Museum Founder and Curator, 1895-1978

Sam Waller, Museum Founder and Curator, 1895-1978

February 27th was Canada’s National Anti-Bullying Day. So many wonderful minds are at work to try to address the bullying that is so prevalent in our schools and elsewhere. Once again, I return to publishing student letters written to me from students at Scott Bateman School in The Pas, Manitoba, in response to my Artists in the Schools visit, and their reading of my anti-bullying novel, The Beech Nut of Big Water Beach. Students are eager to understand bullying, and to name their experiences, as these letters prove!

In today’s post, I include photos taken in the charming, informative local museum in the Pas.

Museum Photo, from "The Northland" by Bert Hoffman, 1920

Museum Photo, from “The Northland” by Bert Hoffman, 1920

November 13, 2012

Dear Margaret Shaw-Mackinnon,

Thank you for come to my school! It was cool. I like how you read us your book! My name is N. and I love to read. I read a lot ever day. I liked your book. It was awesome. I am 11 years old. My favorite sport is soccer. My favorite foods [are] pizza and tacos. Those are my favorite foods.

My favorite character is Munro. He is my favorite character. It must take a long time to write a book like that. How did you like The Pas? Was it awesome or not good? How many books did you bring to the The Pas? I read your whole book. It was the best I ever read in my life! I like how everyone confessed that they had a lie. Munro had lots of lies, like Jack hanging out in his dreams. How long did it take to make that awesome book?

I’ve never been bullied in my life. Do not bully anybody—just be yourself. Bullying is very bad. Stand up to bulling. Do not hide from bullying. Stand up. Bullying has no power.

Sincerely, N. V.

Museum Photo, Indian Days 1995

Museum Photo, Indian Days 1995

December 11, 2012

Dear N.,

A Policeman's Jacket from Early 1900s, from Sam's Collection

A Policeman’s Jacket from Early 1900s, from Sam’s Collection

Thank you for your enthusiastic letter about my visit to Scott Bateman Middle School and about your experience with The Beech Nut of Big Water Beach. I’m glad you thought my book was awesome, and that my visit was cool! Your comment that my book was the best you’d ever read made my heart sing! It’s nice to know that you like soccer, pizza, and tacos!

In response to your comment that “It must take a long time to write a book like that” I have to agree that it does. The first draft didn’t take that long, but all the rewrites, and getting it just right, took a long time! I enjoyed it all, because writing is what writers like to do.

Local Animals from Sam's Collection

Local Animals from Sam’s Collection

I did enjoy The Pas! I stayed in a cottage on Clearwater Lake, and I thought it was the most beautiful place. Also, I found that the teachers at Scott Bateman were really nice, and the students were great. I liked the Museum, and the movie theatre, and the tea shop. Yes, I enjoyed The Pas very much!

I’m so happy to know that you have never been bullied. You really understand about bullying now, that it’s bad and we must stand up to it.

Best wishes,
Margaret Shaw-MacKinnon

Home of the Swampy Cree, By Sam Waller, 1925

Home of the Swampy Cree, By Sam Waller, 1925

Now I Know How Not to Be a Bully!

16 Feb

Tuesday, November 13, 2012
Dear Margaret Shaw-Mackinnon,

Hello, my name is P., and I’m in Mr. Popiel’s class [at] Scott Bateman Middle School. I’m from The Pas, MB. I’m writing to you because we finished The Beech Nut! (HOORAY)!! Thank you for coming to our class. It’s cool that we got an author to come to the class. The book was really good, and now I know how not to be a bully! Thanks!

I really liked the book when Munro, Al, Dean, and Mike did that prank! It was really funny! This book is really good. It’s one of my favorite books! One valuable lesson that I learned is that I really don’t want to be a bully!!! My favorite characters are Munro, Alison, and Mike. I also liked when you drew pictures on the board. My favorite one was Alison’s nightmare because it was scary! (Sort of—ha ha!)

The book was really funny! I learned to be yourself, and don’t let anyone change who you are! I have my own experience with a bully. It’s not fun!

I hoped that you had fun like I did! Bye!

Sincerely,
P.!!

Anti-Bullying Lessons in the Classroom

Anti-Bullying Lessons in the Classroom

December 11, 2012
Dear P.,

Thank you for your letter about my visit to your school and about reading The Beech Nut of Big Water Beach. I was so glad to hear that you finished reading my book! It’s great to reach the end in a book that you enjoy, to find out what happens. I was pleased to hear that you thought the book was good and that you know how not to be a bully. That’s fantastic.

I agree that the prank was very funny. I think that it’s wonderful that The Beech Nut of Big Water Beach is one of your favorite books! Authors love to hear such positive feedback!

I was sorry to hear that you have been bullied, and that it is not fun. As I’ve said to other kids, when bullying doesn’t stop, go to a trusted adult like Mr. Popiel, or like the counselor, Mrs. M. and they can help out!

I did have fun, just like you, in coming to your class. You were all such good listeners, and enthusiastic students, and it was my pleasure to work with you!

Best wishes,
Margaret Shaw-MacKinnon