Saturday, June 12, 2010

Fantasy Courtyard Model by HYCC kids

As promised this post is about the work I've been doing with
the Hawthorne Youth and Community Center's programs here
in Roxbury. For quite a while now I've been working with the kids
(ages 6-11), other artists and sometimes broader community
members on various art projects including several First Night
parade projects, prayer flags, handmade paper and for last three
springs 3-D architectural models (in '08- a Dream Theme Park
in '09- a community cafe including a green roof for growing food).
Once completed, the children give a presentation about the
project to the community and the model they create is displayed
in our local library over the summer.

For many years HYCC along with 7 other community groups has
also participated in a Community Creations program connected
with the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum, or "Isabella's House"
as the kids call it under the leadership of artist, Johnetta Tinker.
(If your name is Isabella - you get in free for life!)
The kids work on art inspired by some aspect of the Gardner
museum. At the end of the program, their work is displayed in
the special exhibitions room for one week-quite an honor. I've
told them many professional artists never get to see their
work in such a famous museum.

This year their model architectural project was combined
with the Gardner museum opportunity. The challenge put
before them (and me!) was to create a 3-D courtyard model
inspired by their Spring visits to the Gardner's courtyard. For
those of you who are unfamiliar with the Gardner - it was built
like an Italian Renaissance villa around a sumptuous courtyard.
Museum website is: for the
fascinating history of Isabella and of her art collection.

The photo above shows what the courtyard looks like in the Spring
complete with 3-story trailing nasturtiums.

OK - 3 story walls (there are 4 total, but we decided 3
was enough and besides the museum is really on the first 3),
mosaic (the Gardner's has Medusa in its center), sculpture,
plants, benches - a lot to think about - idea: inspired by,
not exact model (thank goodness!).

Kids preliminary work involved looking at courtyard images,
building courtyards with blocks, drawing and a couple
visits to the Gardner where they observed and did some
small art projects. Back at the center, they decided what
needed to go into "their" courtyard - a mosaic with their own
mythical figures ,walls, flowers, sculptures, windows, paintings
seen through the windows (including a few empty frames to
honor the empty frames left there after the infamous theft
of major works) and of course inhabitants! We decided on
a rough scale of 1" = 1 foot.

First the mosaic - Using tile left over from a previous mosaic
playground wall project from years ago (I love folks who don't
throw out materials!),they worked out general tile designs
laying tile on paper first, then glued down their tile designs to
a 3 foot by 4 foot piece of plywood.

The creature on the right is called "Vudo, the cloud controller".

Then lots more tiles, and grouting:

And the "grass" - cut out, glued, and stapled.

Sculptures, benches -(low fire white clay - sculpted, fired,
and painted like marble, rather than glazed), plants,bushes
and fountains -cardboard and tissue paper. We had thought
about a real fountain with real water..but thought better
of that - this time around anyway!

The walls: cardboard interior wall with cut out windows,
exterior wall with 2" space between - foamboard. Attached
together with small square foamboard slotted pieces.

Kids used texture paint (with pumice) to add relief to columns
(I'm not sure I'd do that again!), then a base coast of paint and
finished with acrylic sponge painting to create "marble" effect.

Next coloring in flowers...and adding nasturtium vines
of thread and tissue paper.

But what is a courtyard without inhabitants. The two
fifth graders in the group provided animals, aliens, and
super heroes each representing one of the students in the
after school program. There was a lot of discussion about
who should be next to whom in the windows. We printed an
image of Isabella from her portrait to look out one window
and they made painting for the walls. In her will the real
Isabella specified that nothing was to be changed in her
museum. We suspected she might be a little startled to
find alien battle scene paintings and soaring super heroes!

The final model - HYCC's 3' x 4' x 3' fantasy courtyard
completed at the community center:

and on exhibit at the museum:

All in all a fun project. The museum even decided
to use the image of the model on their community
creations exhibition page pleasing the HYCC's director
and the kids!

This Friday they will give a presentation of the model
and then it will be moved to the Dudley Branch library
for the summer.

Next week...a short report on the end of my S. American
trip -artists I saw in Buenos Aires and a bit of tango!

Journey on!


  1. what an amazing project! and the courtyard looks fantastic. Linda

  2. Thanks Linda - It was fun. I'd never done a mosaic with kids (or by myself) before so we learned together. Range of age and personalities in the group and end of school year timing presented creative challenges. Flexibility was the most necessary trait to keep everything flowing and to make sure
    the kids really felt invested and "owned"
    the final result.

  3. The project is stunning and I loved seeing the process and thinking. Just imagine if all of the kids in our world were able to exercise that sort of creativity regularly. So many skills learned, so much beauty shared and having a master artist guide and teach them stretched their abilities. Bravo!

  4. Thanks for the thoughts, Model is now on
    display at the Dudley Branch Library
    through the month of July. I love that
    the kids can see their work displayed
    in the community!