“Are there any hidden messages in the paintings?” I was starting a tour with some elementary school students at the Winnipeg Art Gallery. I told them we would be like detectives or explorers looking for interesting details in the art. One girl put up her hand to ask if I knew of any hidden or secret messages in the paintings. Luckily I had an idea where we could find one.
Women in a Hat With Flowers by Picasso 1944
As we viewed this painting Picasso made of his lover Dora Maar I asked the children if they could find Dora’s name hidden in the painting. It didn’t take them long to pick out the four letters. Check out the arrows.
The upper case D
The letter o
The cursive r
The letter A two ways- a lower case backwards one to the right or an uppercase sideways one to the left
The children thought it was very cool Picasso hid Dora’s name in his painting of her. It got them searching for hidden messages in every piece of art. The intense looking that inspired helped them discover lots of other interesting things about the artwork they viewed.
What in the World is That?
Plants That Talked to Me
Two Artists -Me and My Grandson
Mr. Melvin Toews (father of noted Canadian writer Miriam Toews) was my grade seven teacher at Woodlawn School in Steinbach during the 1966- 1967 school year. Canada was celebrating its 100th birthday. In the fall of 1966 Mr. Toews decided to put together a magazine called The Woodlawn Journal. Each student was asked to contribute a piece of writing about Canada or write a report about how different areas of the country were preparing to commemorate the centennial.
The journal opened with a poem about Canada by my friend Audrey. On the second page was my essay entitled This Land of Ours. Mr. Toews printed up many copies of our journal, probably at his own expense, and we all felt great about being published authors with our work available for others to read.
Here’s how my essay started………..
Canada is a rough vast land nestled between two foaming masses of water. It stretches from the Atlantic Ocean where the lonely wails of fishing schooners fill the air to the Pacific Ocean where you can hear the harsh blasts of ocean liners as they chug out of Vancouver’s harbor. It reaches northward to the snowy land of polar bears and reindeer and south to the blue waters of the Great Lakes.
Pretty poetic wasn’t I?
As Canada celebrates its 150th birthday it is kind of neat to look back at the journal my classmates and I created fifty years ago for another milestone in Canadian history.
Staff picture Elmdale School 1976-1977 I am second from the right in the back row. Mr. Toews is sitting to the far left.
By the way I didn’t save my copy of the Woodlawn Journal but a decade after I was in Mr. Toews’ grade seven class I got a job at Elmdale School where Mr. Toews was on staff as this photo attests. On my first day on the job I walked into Mr. Toews’ class to say hello and he went straight to his filing cabinet, pulled out a copy of the journal and opened it to the page with my essay. He gave me the copy to keep. Thanks Mr. Toews.
On the Eastern Edge of Canada
An Interesting Interview
This May marks the 20th anniversary of the height of the great flood of 1997. It was dubbed the Flood of the Century. It caused more than $500 million in damage and resulted in the evacuation of tens of thousands of Manitoba folks from their homes. News of the rising Red River dominated the media. Children saw images of it constantly on their television screens and heard adults discussing the rising waters. In a newspaper column in May of 1997 I wrote about what I was observing in the children and young people I knew as they reacted to all that flood information.
At Mitchell School where I was teaching at the time I watched two girls playing with a doll house and moving all their miniature people and furniture to the second floor. “A flood is coming,” they told me as they fashioned a boat out of clay to rescue their stranded doll family.
At recess time I noticed kids digging rivers and building cities in the sandbox and then drowning them with water from nearby puddles.
The journal entries of my grade four students alerted me to how concerned they were. One girl wrote, “I heard the water would have to touch the Golden Boy’s toes before Mitchell would be flooded. I hope that’s true.” Another girl described the day her family spent sandbagging to try to save a relative’s hog barns in Rosenort. One boy wrote about a horse he had seen on television that had nearly drowned in the rising waters.
Each morning I gave the kids a chance to talk about the flood. They were clearly apprehensive about how the flood might impact them. I had to reassure them adults were handling the situation and they shouldn’t worry.
My older son was eighteen at the time of the flood and just finishing his final year of high school. It was interesting to observe how the natural disaster gave him and his friends such a sense of purpose and importance. For many days in a row they’d report to school in the morning and then be sent out in work groups to flood threatened areas. The teens would put in long hours of hard physical labor sandbagging, coming home wet, muddy, sunburned and bone-tired only to wake up the next morning and head back out again to another threatened site. My son talked about how grateful people were to them and how homeowners thanked them profusely.It was a great character builder for the kids. They were making a difference. People were counting on them. I think probably that week or so of sandbagging was one of the most important learning experiences of my son’s senior year of high school.
I am glad there has been no repeat of Flood of the Century here in Manitoba. But as I have listened to news of the flooding that has caused such havoc in the province of Quebec in recent weeks, I have been thinking about how the children there are being impacted by the rising waters, and how they might be reacting. I hope there are people listening to their concerns, reassuring them and providing positive ways for them to respond.
Flooding at Birch Point
Noah – A Violent Movie About a Violent Story
Dave Bends Over Backward
A popular new activity we have been trying at the Winnipeg Art Gallery on our school tours is portrait creation with plasticine. It engages even the most reluctant visitors. I’ve found it works especially well with a series of portraits located quite close to one another in our Modernist Tradition gallery. I tell the kids they can try to recreate one of the portraits, combine features from several or create their own unique portrait.
Younger gallery visitors aren’t sure they would like to meet Professor Felix Walter whose portrait was done by Charles Fraser Comfort in 1933. They tell me the professor’s eyebrows are too bushy and his hands too bony. Older students however are intrigued by the professor.
The kids invariably comment on Helen Esterman‘s long neck in this bronze portrait of her by Sir Jacob Epstein done in 1948.
Junior highs seem especially enamored with Rubber Lips a 1997 work by Janet Werner.
Younger students often identify most closely with The Farmer’s Daughter a portrait done by Prudence Heward in 1938. We try to give time for some kind of art activity on every tour we do with students at the Winnipeg Art Gallery. We want them to feel like they are artists too and can be creative just like the artists whose work they are seeing. Their plasticine masterpieces show just how creative so many of them are!!
I Love Art
Sunday Afternoon at the Winnipeg Art Gallery
I was visiting a school and kids at a table just outside the gym door were selling treats to raise funds for a class outing. “Will you buy something?” they entreated.
“What do you have that’s healthy?” I asked. They were stymied. They had a wide variety of chocolate bars, chips and baked goods for sale. They suggested a fruit juice box but a quick check of the label revealed it was packed with sugar. The only healthy thing I could find were sticks of cheese. The irony of the sales table being just outside the gym door where the kids take their Physical Well Being classes wasn’t lost on me.
There were lots of positives to the kids’ sales venture. They were learning how to interact politely with the public, how to handle and count money, the importance of managing costs and profits and they were working together to achieve a goal. Could they have learned those things just as well if their sales table had featured fruits and vegetables, popcorn, yogurt, sunflower seeds, pistachios and whole grain or rice crackers? I understand those things might have been hard to sell.
It will take some doing to get kids to think healthy treats can be just as delicious and satisfying as unhealthy ones. But it’s a change of perspective families, schools and governments need to work at seriously if we are going to combat childhood obesity and promote more healthy lifestyles for kids. Thinking about what kinds of things we sell for fundraisers- cookies, candies and chocolates might be a good place to start.
Eat Like You Give A Damn
Healthy Environments- Not Gyms or Arenas
We had supper last weekend with friends whose daughter teaches at Winnipeg Mennonite Elementary School. They told us their daughter’s elementary class was involved in an exchange with the Al-Hijra Islamic School. Classes from both schools have been visiting one another and participating in games and activities together. In CBC interviews the Muslim and Mennonite principals said they were looking for ways to help children implement values of openness, fairness, kindness, compassion and care; values shared by both Muslim and Christian belief systems. By providing opportunities for their students to connect they hoped to prevent stereotypes from breeding and teach the children how important it is to respect those whose faith might differ from their own. The kids interviewed for the CBC story were happy to be making new friends.
Mural of Canada’s children on Broadway in Saskatoon
I am glad educators are actively seeking opportunities to foster tolerance, respect and friendship between children of different backgrounds. It gives me hope for the future of our country and the world.
A Classroom Very Different From Mine
Encouragement After the American Election
Thoughts on Hope
My grade three class at the Kornelson School in Steinbach
I was guiding a group of students from a school in my hometown through the Winnipeg Art Gallery recently. At one point during the tour I watched the children busy making clay sculptures. Suddenly it struck me how very different this class looked than the classes I’d been part of in that same community as a child. Check out the photo above of my grade three class taken on the steps of Steinbach’s Kornelson School in 1960. All forty students in the photo are white. I can still remember the surnames of almost every child in my class. Virtually ever one was of Mennonite heritage.
The group I was touring at the art gallery fifty years later was incredibly more diverse. The children came from a wide variety of racial, cultural and religious backgrounds.
I’m glad the community I grew up in has become much less homogenous in some important ways. Children are receiving a more realistic, balanced view of the world right in their own classrooms as they interact with youngsters who come from very different backgrounds than their own. That gives me hope for the future of our country and our world.
The Children Are Watching and Listening