The Art Room, Sudbury Style


A Day in the Art Room – An Intern’s Tale

(Kathrine Egeberg is Fairhaven School’s wonderful Danish intern. She is a student of education who wants to start a Sudbury school in Denmark one day.)

Rarely is the Art Room empty, and today is no exception. The room floods with natural light in soft yellow tones, and outside I see grand beech trees standing tall, deeply rooted in the still cold earth. Occasionally, from my elevated position, a kid hurries by outside, running from the cold. In such situations, I can only be glad to be in such a tropical setting! Although they are not always supposed to be, the tables are filled with papers, cardboard and so many scraps you wouldn’t believe it possible. Students look onto their projects with a wrinkle between their eyes, so focused on this thing that for a moment, it is their entire world. The same can be said for adults, I might add. Every little action has a purpose.

Today, I have the pleasure of spending some time in this hub of creativity. As often happens when I step into the room, a small girl calls out, “Kaaathrine!” as though I was just the person she had been looking for the entire day. This is promptly followed by another question: “Can I paint?” Soon, the echo spreads through the entire room. (Side note: Often the smaller children aren’t certified for acrylic paints and can only use them when a staff member is present. The paintbrushes are very happy about this arrangement.)

“Sure, you can paint,” I say, which starts a mad dash to the paint in the revolving rack, everybody trying to get the perfect colors. I go for the watercolors, preferring not to just sit and stare at my young friends. Inevitably, a little girl joins me in this endeavor, so we share our paint and water.

On the other side of the room, a couple of boys are working on their new weapon designs. These are carefully and artfully crafted from cardboard. Their trusty sidekick is the hot glue gun, its molten goo slowly turning from clear to a cloudy white, always ready to do its magic. For a person who likes to sew, I am surprised when the magic even works on fabric for their camouflage outfits. One boy is working on a tommy-gun, another on a mask made from at least forty black paper strips. The strips have been carefully made to build a 3d structure surrounding his face. Almost finished, he is working on the nose, which is a bit too small for him at the present, still nothing a pair of scissors and hot glue can’t fix.

Although their art doesn’t always come out as they might have intended, the students adapt, shaping it into something amazing. Craftiness is a valuable skill, because often their canvas and tools are everyday items we all discard into our trashcans without thinking twice. The transformation is quite wonderful to behold! Chopsticks turn into magical wands which cast dangerous spells, bamboo sticks turn into fencing swords to stir up trouble, and scrap fabric turns into cats for dolls and parents.

One girl comes over to me with a homemade card. “Can you write ‘Happy Birthday, Olivia’ on this?” she asks, so I do. She then explains to me that it will be her doll’s birthday tomorrow, and she needs a birthday card. Painstakingly, she traces the letters with her paintbrush and makes hearts. Another girl is constructing a computer. Its components are mostly cardboard decorated with paint and paper shapes. She also has the sensibility to provide the computer with bottles of medicine for when the computer contracts viruses. As often happens here, duty suddenly calls elsewhere: I am needed for rehearsals for the play, so I leave the tropical, creative hub for the moment, knowing I will find more of the same quietly remarkable activity whenever I return.

–Kathrine Egeberg

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