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Students study world's cultures through art

Melinda Mawdsley

The analogy was ingenious.

“Pretend your paintbrush is your favorite pet,” instructor Virginia Barrett said, demonstrating how to move the watercolor paintbrush back and forth on clay.

Barrett, the head of the art department at Perry-Mansfield Performing Arts Camp and School, has taught art for years, so she has developed creative ways to prevent 6-year-olds from roughhousing with her fragile brushes.

Barrett also has created an ingenious way to get her students to listen.

“Pick up your suitcases,” she calmly said to her four students Thursday.

While Wyatt Gray, 7, James Bradley, 7, Ariel Palaia, 8, and Emma Parks, 6, held their paper suitcases, Barrett provided instructions on how to use watercolor paints to turn their homemade clay incense burners into works of art.

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For the first time this fall and winter, Barrett offered after-school art classes at the Perry-Mansfield campus. Her Thursday class – Art Around The World – was her most popular.

Children ages 6 to 10 focused on art inspired by a different country each week. The children listened to a particular country’s music while working on their different art projects.

Barrett taught the children how to draw, paint and make prints. She taught them to use paper mache, put collages together and sculpt, among other things.

The children in the Art Around The World class, which lasted approximately two hours each Thursday, made Kachina dolls at their stop on an Indian reservation in New Mexico; hosho shakers on their day in Zimbabwe; drums in Timbuktu; and totem poles in Alaska.

Their most recent effort was making clay incense burners from India.

“They were my favorite because we are making it out of clay and we are sculpting things,” Ariel said.

“We talked about how they like to burn incense in India,” Barrett said.

The children received stickers for their suitcases at each stop. Barrett explained to the children why each art project was an important symbol of each country’s culture.

Emma enjoyed making worry dolls in Guatemala, and she remembered why the dolls were important to the Central American country.

“The children tell the dolls their worries, and they put them back under their pillows, and they take their worries away,” Emma said.

Barrett held her art classes in the Cabeen cabin, which is a small, warm house with a large art table. Barrett made sure music was playing and the children were engaged each Thursday.

Barrett was pleased with how much cultural information the children had retained eight weeks into the 10-week class.

“I gave my Hand of Fatima to my mom,” Wyatt said.

Barrett stepped in quickly to spell Fatima and explain why the spirit that hangs on Moroccan doors is important in Casablanca.

“Great job Wyatt,” Barrett said.

Barrett thought the cultural information was just as beneficial to the children as their art projects, which is why she’s tinkering with the idea of offering the class to her Perry-Mansfield campers.