NORTH FALMOUTH – The day after third graders made insects, fourth graders made fantasy-inspired beasts.
The school-wide art project that took place this spring at North Falmouth Elementary School got its inspiration from a book and its creative energy from a group of local artists.
When Sue Beardsley was a child, she was told she didn’t have the talent to be an artist. Now her fantastical creatures made of found art can be seen along roadways and bike paths all around Falmouth. On a brisk day earlier this spring, she brought her expertise to guide young students at the school to create their own fantasy creatures.
“If you’re an artist, anything goes,” Beardsley told a group of 60 fourth graders as she prepped them for a session in which they would be making imaginary beasts. “Fantastic means fantasy. You can have 17 legs, five eyes,” she said.
During the morning art session in the school’s cafeteria, the students could choose from tubes and cans, colored wire and string, styrofoam shapes, buttons, toothpicks and more.
Among the volunteers, besides the usual parents and teachers, were a seven-person crew from the Woods Hole Coast Guard Cutter Hammerhead, who were on hand to help the kids use glue guns and handsaws to build and stabilize their beasts.
Beardsley’s message to the children was to let their imaginations run free and that all artistic creations are to be encouraged.
“I love to make animals. It is really fun to use your imagination,” she told the children as she showed them strange and unusual creatures she had made with wire and other found objects.
“Your job today is to make beasts, to make animals. The second part of your job is to have fun,” she said.
She reminded them that their task was to make “fantastic” beasts. “Fantasy means not real. It is in your imagination. Take an idea of an animal and make it fantastic. Give a frog antlers. As an artist, you will not be able to make a mistake, no matter what you do,” she said.
North Falmouth Elementary School Art Teacher Kathryn Sodaitis, who led the school-wide art project, said this year in Falmouth full-time art teachers were added to all the elementary schools. In past years, the schools shared art teachers. Sodaitis said she wanted to tackle a community based school-wide art project to serve as inspiration for all 315 children in grades kindergarten through fourth grade at the school.
Kellan O’Leary, a parent who is the chair of the school’s Parent Teacher Organization, brought the idea of a One Book project to the school and approached Eight Cousins Books for book recommendations, knowing that the local bookstore had worked with Falmouth Library officials and others in choosing community reading choices in past years.
Sara Hines is the expert on children’s books at the bookstore and she picked out a stack of selections for school officials to consider. They ended up picking one of her favorite books of last year, “Maybe Something Beautiful: How Art Transformed A Neighborhood,” a colorful picture book by F. Isabel Campoy and Theresa Howell, illustrated by Rafael Lopez.
The book, based on a true story, features vibrant illustrations by a muralist who helped to transform a drab neighborhood in San Diego, California into a neighborhood art project in which benches, sidewalks, walls and utility boxes were all decorated by members of the community.
Hines said she was delighted that the school decided to use the book as a stepping off point for a school-wide art project.
Hines is a proponent of diverse books, both books by authors with diverse backgrounds and books that include diverse characters.
The book, “Maybe Something Beautiful” is both. It is about “beauty, art, community and culture, specifically hispanic culture,” Hines said. And, although it is a picture book appropriate for youngsters, Hines says the message and colorful imagery transcends young readers. “I’m an advocate of picture books for all ages,” she said. She said the book’s rich illustrations and theme of art help to teach students “visual literacy,” is important at a time when art and music have been pushed aside at some schools.
“I was delighted the school was willing to go in that direction,” she said of the choice of “Maybe Something Beautiful” as the school’s Community Read book.
Besides Beardsley, local artists Alfie Glover and Tessa D’Agostino participated in the art project. After working with the students on the creatures earlier this spring, they installed their creations —birds, bugs, flowers, trees and fantastic beasts (Beardsley’s speciality) — at the school on a recent weekend.
Sodaitis brought in Jan Crocker, a resident of Bourne and exhibit developer to create the concept of a “natural neighborhood” for the school in order to display the works of art. Artist Alfie Glover built a fence of branches on which sit birds made by second graders. Kindergarteners made flowers. Trees in the school lobby made of rope and metal welcome visitors in the school lobby and point the way to insect and beast sculptures along the hallways and in the library.
Sodaitis said the color palette of the school project was also inspired by the palette of the book’s illustrations: “very bright, warm vibrant colors,” she said.
She said the project was strongly supported by the North Falmouth Elementary Parent Teacher Organization, as well as the Falmouth Education Foundation. “It’s a strong message from the parents that they really value the art and want that experience for their children,” she said.