Since the school’s founding, art has always been a basic element of the whole-child curriculum and program at The School in Rose Valley. Grace Rotzel, principal of SRV from 1929–1967, wrote:
“There are two views of education; one, that a man should be educated to be what he is, and the other, to be what he is not. The progressives took the first view, and therefore adopted the broad definition of art as concerned not only with form, color, and movement in a variety of media, but with the uniqueness of the individual.”
A whole person, in SRV’s view, is not only familiar with the art of the world, but has the opportunity to make art regularly for personal expression and fulfillment.
Art instruction occurs in every classroom in the school, and art materials are provided in nearly every room to be used in conjunction with other curricula and during choice times. Art is also integrated, as much as possible, with what children are learning in other subjects. For example, a kindergartner’s discovery of a baby snapping turtle in the sandbox one fall inspired turtle research in books and the science room, drawing turtles to encourage closer observation, and then making turtles with clay in art class. So in many ways, every room in the school is an art classroom.
Art is also a special subject for children from kindergarten and up. The Art Room is both a classroom and a studio. It is well equipped and stocked with plentiful materials and supplies for easy access to children. Like all great studios, it bears the marks of creative use in which the process is valued at least as much – if not more than – the end product, or the tables and floors.
A dominant feature of the art room is the work tables. They are large enough for four to six children to work on small projects, or for a child to spread out something really big. Working together at tables encourages children to interact, offer opinions and advice. “Mess it up, fix it up!” is a familiar mantra heard daily.
All of the children do a lot of drawing and painting during art classes. In addition to working at the tables, they sometimes take paper and clipboards outdoors to draw around the campus or in the neighboring woods. All of the children also have personal sketch books that they use for some assignments, or perhaps take with them when they hike with their class.
The art curriculum includes lots of work with three-dimensional media and materials such as collage, sculpture and clay. All of the children make clay pots, learning a variety of construction techniques from year to year. The room boasts four potters’ wheels that the older children may use. Another favorite traditional SRV clay project is known as “butterstick figures” – people or other creatures modeled from a wedge of clay about the size and shape of a stick of butter. Some clay work is fired more than once in our kiln, as the children learn to use different glazes.
Textiles are often overlooked in art curricula, but not at SRV. The children often make felt from the wool of our own sheep, sometimes forming it into objects such as rattles, or decorations for our walls. There is also a huge loom in the Art Room, on which groups often make community weavings.
All of the wonderful three-dimensional pieces created by the children must be displayed. There is a large display box in the art room. In a bed of shallow sand, objects may be safely stood and arranged for admiration. And it wouldn’t be SRV if these were never to be touched; sometimes the display box has objects that the children are invited to play with.
The children’s pictures and paintings are also displayed, of course, not only on the walls of the Art Room but in public display areas throughout the school.
Art appreciation is a major element of the curriculum, so the Art Room is fully stocked with evidence of the work of famous artists and folk art from different cultures. There are stacks of posters that are changed up regularly. The Art Room library has dozens of beautiful books about individual artists, artistic movements and genres, and art from various cultures and eras. Discussions of the art they learn about, and of their own work, occur every day in the Art Room meeting area.