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More than 400 students in kindergarten through fifth grade took part in residency activities. With the help of Lynda Elias and Virginia Corwin of Delaware Mosaics, students transformed the school's entryway into a glittering gallery of decorated pillars featuring cuddly creatures and inspirational affirmations. Photo courtesy of Chelsea Dipman

Making Mosaics in Marion: TeachArtsOhio Grant Supports Inspirational Artmaking at Garfield Elementary School

Garfield Elementary School students worked with professional teaching artists during a residency focusing on mosaics and recycled art. The residency was supported by a TeachArtsOhio grant. Photo courtesy of Chelsea Dipman.Just a few streets away from its famous cathedral, the French city of Chartres—located about 55 miles southwest of Paris—boasts a cottage that is a mosaicked marvel.

Started in 1938 by Raymond Isidore, a cemetery caretaker,
La Maison Picassiette is completely covered in intricate designs—all created from bits of broken pottery or glass that Isidore found, often by digging through others’ trash. This habit of acquiring materials from unconventional sources earned Isidore the nickname picassiette (translating roughly to “plate stealer”). Initially intended as an insult, the sobriquet stuck and morphed as Isidore completed his work over the course of 30 years. When he was finished, he instead became known as the father of pique assiette, a term now used to describe a mosaic that, like Isidore’s creation, uses a hodgepodge of found materials, mismatched designs, and varying textures.

Visitors to Garfield Elementary School in Marion, Ohio, can see a pique assiette piece a little closer to home thanks to a project completed by students participating in a TeachArtsOhio teaching artist residency that focused primarily on mosaic works and recycled materials.


Led by mosaic artist Vicki Murphy, students worked with pieces of broken chinaware—much of it donated by community members—to create this mural celebrating the possibilities of imagination. (Photo by Amanda Etchison)Central Ohio mosaic artist Vicki Murphy, one of the teaching artists who worked with the students, helped art classes break ceramic plates into pieces that formed a
pique assiette mural exploring the endless potential of one’s imagination through the imagery of an open book.


“What I love about mosaics is that you can touch them,” said Murphy, who owns Vicki Murphy Mosaics. “You know when you’re a kid and adults are always like, ‘Don’t touch that. Don’t get near the art?’  With mosaic art, you can touch it, you can feel it, you can experience it. That is one of the things that I think is super cool for the kids.”


Garfield Elementary School art teacher Chelsea Dipman said the theme of the piece is meant to show her students that creativity is limitless, a message she emphasized as the students cut and arranged the mosaic pieces themselves. She reminded them that anyone can create art—whether they are a designer, a teacher, or even a cemetery caretaker.


“A lot of these students haven’t been to the Columbus Museum of Art; a lot of them haven’t even been out of town,” Dipman said. “I want them to think of themselves as artists, and I just want them to be able to put a face to the title ‘artist,’ what that is, and how you can be successful.”


Students worked with mosaic tools and recycled materials to create works of art that will be displayed at Garfield Elementary School for years to come. Photo courtesy of Chelsea Dipman.In addition to buoying future aspirations, the mural, like all the projects completed during the residency, also celebrates the Garfield community. This piece in particular, Dipman said, was directly influenced by the enthusiastic response she received when she put out a call for donations of dinnerware.


“Every dish used in this mosaic has a story. Some of them I’m sure are 30-50 years old, taken from old china sets. How many families have eaten off them? How many people interacted with those materials before they came here?” she said. “It’s not only collaboration in the making of the piece; it’s collaboration in the materials. What purpose did these materials serve before they were used for this art project? They were discarded, but now they were given another life.”


This cycle of reinvention and reuse is part of the magic of mosaics. When creating a mosaic, discarded pieces go from disjointed odds and ends to integral parts of a new design, renewed with refreshed purpose and potential. This lesson is one that extends beyond the classroom, Murphy said.


“I hope the kids were able to be inspired by the healing power of art. Mosaics are broken pieces that are put together to make an image, to make something beautiful or something joyful,” she said. “There are important stories and experiences in this mosaic that will be shared at school and with the outside community as well.”

 


Other projects completed during the residency brought the students’ art out into the community in literal ways. Recyclables were reformatted into garden decorations, exterior pillars were covered in mirrored tiles and positive affirmative messages, while in the hallway, a brightly patterned school of fish—each one designed by a student in kindergarten, first, or second grade—swam toward the bathrooms.


As part of her residency, Bowling Green-based artist Gail Christofferson helped students make a “Starry Night”-inspired depiction of Marion, complete with a glass mosaic cityscape featuring houses and familiar buildings from town. The finished piece is displayed in the windowpanes surrounding Garfield’s office and lobby.

 

Glass mosaic artist Gail Christofferson taught students how to make an artwork reflective of the local community. These “Starry Night”-inspired windows decorate the Garfield Elementary School office/lobby area. Photo courtesy of Chelsea Dipman
 

“So many adults get wrapped up on, ‘Oh, that’s not perfect. It needs to fit together perfectly.’ But it doesn’t need to. It’s okay if it looks like a kid did it because, well, a kid did it,” Christofferson said. “I think future generations are going to look at this piece and say, ‘Wow, we have a beautiful school.’ Hopefully that makes them feel good when they come through the door.”
 

 

A detail shot of a mosaic created by Garfield Elementary School students and Marion artist Louise Chell. Photo by Amanda EtchisonIn addition to the in-class work, Christofferson also participated in the school’s family night event, helping parents, grandparents, and siblings create stained glass mosaics with their students.


“I think sharing in artmaking activities like family night shows families that their school is an important part of their students’ daily life,” Christofferson said. “Now they can look at their school and see all this art and this beautiful effort by their kids. I think it gives the school a sense of pride.”


When planning the residency activities, Dipman said she thought about the lasting impact these projects will have, both on the students who created them and the school as a whole.


“I talked to my students about what it means to leave a legacy. Their mosaics are going to be up for a very long time, and from start to finish, we needed to work hard to make sure we made our best work and really showed our community that we are excited about the arts,” she said. “The students don’t have a concept of, ‘this might be up for 10, 15, 20 years,’ but I think that is what’s powerful about mosaics. They are not things that you can easily paint over or take down.”


A school of colorful fish made of glass and clay mounted in the hallway of Garfield Elementary School. Photo by Amanda EtchisonThe longevity of the projects ensures that the works will be around to spark creativity and curiosity for many years to come, Dipman said.


“(These projects) get people excited about what’s happening in this community in the arts, and you just don’t see that here all the time,” she said. “It’s been a way to get people to open up and get them talking about the different art opportunities that we have here with our kids.”


And the best part? She didn’t even have to steal any plates to do it.

 

View more photos from Garfield Elementary School’s artist residencies on Instagram at instagram.com/createwithmsd.


Learn how you can bring a teaching artist to your school through TeachArtsOhio by visiting rebrand.ly/oac-tao.


ABOUT THE OHIO ARTS COUNCIL

The Ohio Arts Council is a state agency that funds and supports quality arts experiences to strengthen Ohio communities culturally, educationally, and economically. Connect with the OAC on Facebook, follow us on Twitter, or visit our website at oac.ohio.gov.

 

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Article by Amanda Etchison, Communications Strategist
Featured photo: More than 400 students in kindergarten through fifth grade took part in residency activities. With the help of Lynda Elias and Virginia Corwin of Delaware Mosaics, students transformed the school's entryway into a glittering gallery of decorated pillars featuring cuddly creatures and inspirational affirmations. Photo courtesy of Chelsea Dipman.



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