Examples from 4 of Laura Patterson’s summer camp projects:
From top left: Chihuly, Guatemalan mat, Marvin Finn, Van Gogh
By Keith Waits
Photos courtesy Laura Patterson
Entire contents copyright © 2014 by Keith Waits. All rights reserved.
On a surprisingly temperate July morning, approximately 150 young people of all ages are moving around Walden Theatre. A few are rehearsing the remount of Pericles that will take the Central Park stage as a part of the Kentucky Shakespeare Community Partners, but most are attending summer camps. On the 2nd floor, Neill Robertson is directing middle school age students in Dorina and the Plague, the original script by Diane Grisanti that is the weekend production, while in the next room, Hallie Dizdarevic and Mera Kathryn Corlett are putting a group of Junior Academy children through the paces of a precocious staging of “Mary Had A Little Lamb.”
On the top floor of the building, Laura Patterson is teaching a creative arts camp that may seem tangential to the focus on theatre instruction that IS Walden Theatre. Yet Patterson, a costume designer at Walden and art teacher at Highland Presbyterian Weekday School for the past 17 years, thinks it all connects: “Masks, Paper Mache, it all feels related to theatre to me. I use all of these techniques in the production of costumes, props and set pieces for plays.”
Having taught these camps for 12 years, she enjoys high enrollment and enthusiasm from her young charges, and if the students don’t understand the relationship to theatre in the same way as their teacher, well, that’s alright as well, as Patterson explains, “If this is viewed as another art class in Louisville? There seems to be less and less attention to art instruction and there can never be enough as far as I’m concerned. These students do get the exposure to theatre by virtue of being in a building filled with this much theatre activity, but I’m just happy they are provided more than 2 hours every day to focus on creating art – to dig deeper.”
The students work each day in stages on several different projects. One is inspired by the work of legendary Louisville folk artist Marvin Finn, and a row of animal shapes mounted on a base line a low table near the windows. The forms are cut from foam core and covered with Paper Mache for durability. On Thursday of the 5-day schedule, they have been painted with base colors and await the application of detail. Another project involves painting mask-like forms and then attaching decorative elements of cut plastic, “shrinky-dinks” and other items such as beads, all echoing the work of glass artist Dale Chihuly (one of Patterson’s favorites). Other projects include Guatemalan mats and paintings that study Van Gogh.
There is a free period when the 15 children are allowed to work on whatever strikes their fancy, and a range of supplies are provided: crayons, paint, collage, and air-dry clay. One week’s group collaborated on constructing a building from scrap wood which resembles a model for a set design. For the most part the budding artists are focused and well-occupied with the tasks at hand, yet the wisdom in the structure of breaking the day into several projects recognizes the attention span of the age group, and Patterson manages a delicate balance of freedom and encouragement with just enough discipline to keep a lid on the childish exuberance encouraged by making art. And when a sweet-faced girl returns from snack break crying because she suddenly “misses her mommy”, the teacher’s years of experience and natural empathy calm the child’s fears in a matter of minutes, and she is soon reoccupied with making art.
That’s a teacher at work.