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Sanbornton students get creative with visiting artist

Students at SCS enjoyed their first look at a colorful piece of art they all had a part in creating through their Artist in Residency project with Vermont sculptor and woodworker Mark Ragonese. (Photo by Donna Rhodes) (click for larger version)
May 09, 2019
SANBORNTON Students at Sanbornton Central School celebrated the arts in a big way last Thursday morning, when the end result of a five-week project they participated in with an Artist in Residence was finally revealed.

Principal Kathleen Pope said that when wood sculptor and furniture maker Mark Ragonese of Vermont was asked to participate in the project, every child in the school had a part in it as well.

"Mark first came to the school and took some action shots of the kids that he then went home and transferred onto wood," she explained.

Some of the photos he first mixed however, using the pose of an arm of one child and perhaps the legs, head or torso of another to come up with the final designs he had in mind for the project. Those were then sketched into patterns, cut out of wood and eventually made into a series of "puzzle pieces."

When Ragonese returned to the school the pieces for each figure were distributed to the students in grades one through five for them all to paint. Kindergarten students were given an additional collection of pieces that formed asymmetrical stars created by Ragonese, which they painted as well. Before they could start painting though, each class was challenged to come up with their own color scheme for each of the figures Ragonese would later join together.

SCS art teacher Joan Cross said that in preparation for the project the students first studied the color wheel and also learned about primary and secondary colors in their art classes.

"We had to use acrylic paints for the project, which can be challenging at these ages, but they all did a great job with them," said Cross.

Once the color palette for each figure was decided on, using shades of blue, pink, purple, yellow and green, they then added visual textures through stamping and other methods before Ragonese took them back to his workshop.

Last Wednesday evening, the artist returned to the school, carefully affixing each puzzle piece to the brick walls along one outside entrance and down the hall leading to the cafeteria/gym. The result was a colorful display of children in motion with stars shining above.

Cries of "I did that piece," "Oh, that's my piece," were heard time and again as one by one the classes paraded through the hall and entry way to admire their work and share their pride.

"Everyone had a piece of this," said Pope. "Even the teachers and staff did something. Their names were all written on the back of each piece and this is something that will be here and they can be proud of for a long, long time."

Every three years each elementary school in the Winnisquam Regional School District has the opportunity to select an Artist in Residence. Pope and Cross are each in their third year with SCS so it was their first opportunity to work with the program and they put a lot of thought into what they wanted the students to experience. Cross said she wanted something that was not "static" and that the children could be physically involved with creating while Pope wanted a work of art that involved all and would become a part of their legacy at SCS. When the pair heard about Ragonese's work in other Artist in Residency programs across New England, both knew they had found what they were looking for.

Ragonese could not be on hand for the big reveal last Thursday but he did send a message to the students, thanking them for their hard work, their thoughtfulness in all they contributed and their cooperation throughout the lengthy process.

School Superintendent Rob Seaward dropped by to see all they had accomplished and was filled with praise for the project.

"Congratulations! This is a really neat concept. I wish I could buy one of these myself and bring it home," he said as he admired the two displays.

Cross also pointed out to him that not only could students and staff enjoy the art each day, the figures hung outside the entrance were also visible to people traveling past the school.

"I really like the fact that the community can drive by and enjoy this all from the road, too," she said.

For Pope, however, there was another meaning to the figures now adorning the walls, all made possible through the contributions of each member of their school community.

"Every single piece in this was important in making the artwork come together. That's how it is here with our students, too. The message is, when you're not here, there's a piece missing," she said.

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