Teaching opportunities can be found in surprising places. After participating in a local art show several years ago, a door opened for volunteering in the LITTLE ARTIST BIG ARTIST program. The 501(c) 3 is a nonprofit whose mission is to support the arts, art education, and art in public spaces for elementary school students in four East Austin Schools.
I volunteered as big artist. Stella and Gabi were my two little artists. We met from February through April and ending with a gallery opening in downtown Austin. My roll was to discuss how artists get ideas and make creative decisions, discuss how art is made, how artists identify customers, and sell their work. The expectation was to create two works of art, one to auction, and the other to keep. The little artists were expected to keep a daily journal of their accomplishments.
Each girl wove on their own 24” floor loom. They also wove on cardboard, inkle, and table looms, and two larger looms with existing work in progress projects. They learned about fibers, equipment, and theory with enthusiasm. They bravely made decisions before they understood where it would lead them. They plowed through the repetitive processes singing. They didn’t ignore mistakes and worked through setbacks. Discovering the electric bobbin winder was one of their great thrills.
Stella’s last journal entry reads in part “I learned all about weaving. It was so much fun. Every time I came to class I learned something new. I decided to make a pillow because it seemed like a challenge to me and it was very interesting. I threw the shuttle 15 times = one inch. My work is 12 ½ inches wide by 55 inches long pillow. $122.25”
Gabi’s last journal entry reads “I produced my wall piece with what I learned. I wove it. We had about 12 ideas but I picked to make a wall piece because it was appealing to me. My piece is worth $248.”
They arrived at their price by calculating a working wage of $8 an hour. The formula came from adding their working hours and doubling the cost of materials. They were confident suggesting the price for their auction piece.
My biggest struggle was time management. Patience was needed watching their project unfold and not rush the outcome as our time shortened. The priceless reward in the end was observing their personal discovery through the creative discipline of weaving.
The LITTLE ARTIST BIG ARTIST program was a meaningful investment of my time. The experience sharpened my mind and presented a different view of my own process in creating art. I recommend taking time to volunteer and share knowledge. The experience of sharing one’s knowledge can be greater than imagined.
This spring, three years after the program, Gabi, my little artist, wrote to say she had been accepted into the Fine Arts High School as a visual arts major. She felt she wouldn’t have been able to get in if we hadn’t worked together. I think both she and her teachers will enjoy her high school years.