February 26, 2014

The Heart of the Auction

Good morning and happy Friday from Orlando, where I am joined by thousands of colleagues from around the country at the annual conference of the National Association of Independent Schools. This week, I invited a guest blogger, Friends’ parent Diane Hullet, to share with you her reflections on working with children on their Auction projects…..


The past few weeks have seen busy heads and hands at school, as each class creates a piece of art as a group to be sold at the Auction.  This tradition has been around for many years. Previous projects have included framed paintings, intricate collages, banners, quilts, and totem poles – all sorts of media and methods, created as a group to be sold for the greater good.  

Art teacher Rachel Relin is a force behind many of these delightful creations. Parent volunteers also play a huge role, each of them key to the conception, creation and marketing of their class project.  Sometimes there are wonderful tie-ins to integrated curriculum. As the volunteer “Art Auction Liaison”, I have a front-row seat for viewing these innovative projects.

4th grade teacher Mary Pearsall receiving
sewing instructions from her students
Mary Pearsall’s 4th grade class has recently been studying Colonial times and the Revolutionary War.  Dena Nishek, the parent volunteer coordinating the auction piece for that class, has been actively sewing every year with this group of kids since her daughter came to Friends' School in Kindergarten.  From hand-sewn felt pencil holders and embellished fleece hats in first grade, to a folk art "Bird Quilt" in second grade, sewing has been a vehicle for many creations with this group.  

Last year the kids worked on sewing machines – many of them for the first time – creating the 25th Anniversary banner that hangs above the front door of the school.  It was remarkable to see what a piece of machinery could do to ignite interest, so it was an easy choice to extend the kids' sewing skills once again this year. The magic of sewing – invisible stitches making shape and meaning out of scraps, things coming apart and coming together – is an empowering process.  

This year an "Early American-Style Quilt" offers an extension of both curriculum and sewing
skills. The kids are making a strip quilt, which entails sewing different widths of fabric into 16-inch squares.  We asked the kids to figure out how many ways they could create 16 by combining, through addition or multiplication, 1s, 2s, and 4s.  They generated numerous combinations in preparation for selecting strips of cloths and creating random or symmetrical designs that would be assembled into a quilt block.

For the first session in the classroom, we laid out six completely different quilts on the floor for the kids to gather around, touch and visually compare colors, patterns, and methods of assembly.  We read a passage from "Growing Up in Colonial America" by Tracy Barrett about the complexity of growing and spinning fibers to weave into cloth from which fabrics were made for clothing and other essentials.  "Cloth made with so much effort, or later bought with so much expense, could obviously not be wasted," Barrett writes. "Worn-out clothes were carefully preserved, and when enough scraps had been saved, the girls and women cut them up and made them into patchwork quilts."   

Students chose pre-cut fabric strips and start sewing. Each student pinned two strips together then came to a sewing machine and made one-quarter-inch seam.  After success with one seam, they moved on to more pinning and another student took a seat at the machine.  One boy, working on his second seam, showed true grit: "Now don't say anything this time!  Let me see if I can just do it right...."  Adults taught kids, students taught each other, and the classroom hummed with happy activity – the clunking of presser feet being lifted up and down, the buzz of machines, the soft hiss of irons.

Sewing with kids works well with many hands, so a crew of helpers was recruited, including moms, grandmas, and two friends from the wider community.  An interior designer who brought in her industrial-style machine, shared tidbits of her career and told the two girls she
was working closely with:  "My daughter began sewing at your age, and later created her own wedding gown out of 20 yards of white satin!"   An artist and former teacher carried an awesome leather purse she had recently sewn and showed it to the kids.  "You MADE that?" asked an admiring boy.

Each classroom art project for the Auction is as unique as the people creating it. I love how these projects go beyond art and connect directly to curriculum, in this case math and history. All of the art auction projects, created as individual expressions and woven into a group whole, then shared with our community and finally landing in a home are, for me, the heart of the auction.

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