By Sam Rosoff
BRIDGEPORT ‑ Alexander Valbuena, a third grade student at Park City Magnet School, created an African mask based on the M’Bwoom Royal Helmet Mask he saw while visiting Housatonic Community College. “I took a big headdress and saw places to put new materials and colors,” said Valbuena, whose mask was covered in vibrant green, yellow, and blue symbols, and sported a beard made of yarn and adorned with feathers and ribbons on top.
Multicultural Magnet School student Natilie Mikhaeel also created artwork inspired by the African mask. “We traced our name on the side, and balanced it on the other side,” Mikhaeel said, describing the mirror-image she used to create the symmetrical painting.
Eliana Llanos, a Winthrop School third grader, collaborated with three other classmates to create an abstract painting full of hearts and stars, using different shades of pink, orange, and black. “I started with the lines, and drew this star here,” Llanos said, pointing to her work.
These children and their parents joined other Bridgeport families and educators at HCC on Nov. 8 for an art exhibit, where the students’ artworks were put on display. The art show was the end result of an on-going partnership between the Housatonic Museum of Art and third grade classes from seven Bridgeport elementary schools.
Earlier this year, classes sat down with museum educators to learn about and discuss various styles of art and the importance of art. They later took a tour of HCC to see the artwork in person. Back in their classrooms, they created new original pieces of art inspired by what they saw. Each school picked a different piece of art to focus on.
To the teachers who helped organize the program, the results were easy to see, based on the students’ immediate reactions. The students said they learned how art can express emotions as well as relate the images and stories to their own lives.
“This was a great way for students to use their creative energy,” said Laurie Polizzo, an art teacher at High Horizons Magnet School. “This gave them a chance to use their verbal self-expression. No answer was wrong – it was all about what they saw, which helps build their thinking skills … Seeing the art work up close and personal was a great experience for the students.”
Kelly Poole, an art teacher at Multicultural Magnet, combined two pieces of artwork for her class assignment. The symbols from Peace Signs, a mural by Amy E. Bartell, were added to the African Mask and resulted in colorful symmetrical paintings. Poole emphasized “not just copying the art,” and instead creating something original.
Winthrop School’s art teacher, Rachel Rockwell, had her students try their hands at abstract art, inspired by an Ernest Briggs painting. She assigned groups of students an emotion, and discussed how a color can be associated with that emotion.
Abstract art is often difficult to grasp, but Rockwell thought her students handled it well. “Younger children are often more open to this than adults are,” Rockwell said.
The program was undertaken in conjunction with the Rotary Club of Bridgeport, which funded the program with a $10,000 grant from the Annie E. Casey Foundation.
“When asked what the focus of my presidency is, I always say it has to be the youth of Bridgeport,” said Rosa Correa, President of the Rotary Club. She said her basic goal was to motivate the students and teach them to appreciate the arts.
“Dreams can’t stay in our minds, they have to become reality,” Correa said, addressing the families and teachers at the art show. “I see a Picasso here. I see a Michelangelo here.”
“Third grade is a critical time in a child’s development,” said Anita Gliniecki, President of HCC and President-Elect of the Rotary Club. She said looking at and creating art helps build critical thinking skills. To the students, it was just a fun experience, but they also unknowingly gained a great education.
Gliniecki also explained how the students were shown a glimpse of what college was like, and this program should help instill a long-term goal for them to attend college. “Hopefully they will see that going to college is a natural part of their life,” Gliniecki said.
After the art show, the students led their parents around the campus, showing all of the artwork that they saw in their tours.
“I really liked the big scribble-scrabble on the first floor, it can mean anything you want,” Valbuena said, referring to the abstract Briggs painting in Beacon Hall.
Janet Luongo, the Museum Educator at HCC, helped run the program, leading the student discussions and tours.
“My heart was struck by these wonderful children. Their art was fun and extraordinary,” said Luongo.
Sam Rosoff of Bridgeport is a journalism intern at Housatonic Community College.