Turlock’s Carnegie center brings schoolkids to art

Carnegie Arts Center docent Paula Crawford talks to fourth-graders from Northmead Elementary in Patterson about Spanish artist Joan Miró on display at the gallery in Turlock on Oct. 2.
Carnegie Arts Center docent Paula Crawford talks to fourth-graders from Northmead Elementary in Patterson about Spanish artist Joan Miró on display at the gallery in Turlock on Oct. 2. naustin@modbee.com

Coloring a free-form owl in bright orange and purple, Patterson fourth-grader Joselyn Lainez was following in the footsteps of surrealist masters.

“You could do anything with art. You could splash colors!” Joselyn said, recapping the art history synopsis given to students before markers were handed out.

The studio project served as the hands-on half of her class field trip to the Carnegie Arts Center last week. The other half she and her classmates spent absorbing the abstract black lines and primary colors of Joan Miró’s “awesome, imaginary universe,” as docent Paula Crawford told them.

“I liked the way she made the connections,” said Nicolle Chandler, Joselyn’s fourth-grade teacher at Northmead Elementary in Patterson. Chandler prepped her class for the trip by showing the students works by Miró, but her 9- and 10-year-olds did not get the picture. “When they saw it before, they just saw a lot of colors,” she said.

Crawford gave the class an overview of the period and the artist’s life. Even Chandler learned a thing or two about the times and techniques, she said. “It’s a part that’s difficult for me to teach,” she said.

The art project started with a length of rope students curled and dropped on a blank white sheet. Tracing the rope with a black marker provided a random shape students then colored and decorated as whatever they imagined.

“They could be anything you want,” explained budding artist Alessa Sainz Gutierrez.

Watching her students 20 minutes into their studio time, Chandler commented, “I like this rope idea. If they didn’t have that rope, I know half of them would still be thinking, ‘What am I going to draw?’ ”

The rope mimics the surrealists’ penchant for accident, finding art in organic shapes, said center interim director Lisa McDermott. She gets ideas from the education departments of larger museums, matching activities with the style of art on display.

Each school field trip includes 45 minutes of studio time for one class while a second class tours the exhibit, then they switch. The activity helps cement art principles of the exhibit; the exhibit shows how famous artists used ideas the kids learned in the studio. High school groups get more discussion of art careers; younger grades focus on art basics, like use of line and color.

For the Miró exhibit, more than 30 field trips from schools as far away as Los Banos and Lodi will be coming to the Carnegie, each helped by a $200 to $250 school bus scholarship and free admission. There is an activity fee of $1 per child to cover costs of materials.

Donations cover the field trip scholarships, as well as individual scholarships for the 13 art classes being offered this fall. The first of the Express Yourself: Justin Ferrari Memorial Scholarship awards went to Ariana Gutierrez, a fifth-grader at nearby Wakefield Elementary.

“Ariana stood out as an excellent candidate for this scholarship because she is such a serious student with a true love of learning and a strong interest in the arts,” said Laura Long, assistant principal at Wakefield. Ariana’s mother has a portfolio of works by the young artist, she said.

Scholarships to the Carnegie, about a mile away from the southwest Turlock school, give students access to art and a chance to develop their talents, Long said, adding, “ It is great to see one of our outstanding students recognized.”

The Carnegie offers a bit of whimsy with Family Fridays, like the free Dia de Los Muertos event coming up at 7 p.m. Oct. 24. Crazy Creatures Night offered cherry tomatoes, pineapple chunks and other edibles as fantasy animal makings. Its classes range from origami to Irish step dancing.

But arts education has its serious side, with docents spending several hours before the opening of each exhibit preparing to lead groups of students and field their many unpredictable questions, McDermott said. The volunteers learn each artist and their style in depth, strategize how to reach different ages, and lay out which works best illustrate key concepts.

The idea is to make a world-class art experience available to the region’s schools, McDermott said.

“A lack of resources in the Central Valley has kept facilities from offering those opportunities and families having to go to San Francisco to see museums,” McDermott said. The Carnegie has the in-house curating expertise and the light- and climate-controlled facility to bring national touring exhibits to this region, she said.

“Miró, Picasso, Degas – we can offer that here to students,” McDermott said. “When they grow up, their expectations of what is available here will be different.”