Child’s Play: A Day at the Museum

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Monthly art classes at the Ackland give kids an outlet for creativity

By Jessica Stringer | Photography By Beth Mann

It was a rainy Saturday afternoon, but inside the Ackland Art Museum, instructor Allison Tierney was gesturing at a few works hanging on a bold red wall. Her audience of eight kids sat on the carpet, listening with rapt attention. Allison kept them engaged as she discussed pictographs, asking a question every so often – ‘What is abstract art? How does yellow make you feel?’ She talked about the background of the artists, Sam Francis and Adolph Gottlieb, and their lives and deaths. That last point made a hand go up in the air: “What is death?” one of the kids asked.

That honesty is why one parent enjoys the classes geared for 6- to 9-year-olds. “I like that Allison describes a lot of things, and she talks about all of the emotions of the artist,” says Nina Browner. “It’s not just a fluffy class that talks about butterflies. She makes sure that you see the sadness that created the art.”

After Allison’s lesson in the gallery, the group snakes through the hallways and up a freight elevator to a studio in the Hanes Art Center. The kids lead the way. Many come every month. “We’ve been six times already,” says Nina.

As the teacher of the monthly Art Adventures class for the past three years, Allison has worked with the kids to do projects from beading and bookmaking to mosaics and collages. “One of my goals is to try and bring in as many new materials and ways of making art to the classes as I can, so we are never doing the same activity twice,” Allison says. “We spent this past summer inspired by self-portraiture and did some full body drawings, clay face sculptures and learned the proportions of the face.”

Today Allison and her team go over the instructions for monoprinting, explaining that unlike screen-printing and linoleum block printing they’ve tackled in the past, they’ve only got one opportunity to make a print per original drawing. The kids jump right in, each covering a large tile with paint and using a cotton swab to draw. It’s a learning process, and the kids discover that simple prints come out better than intricate drawings.

Annie Shen watches as son Ivan Li, 7, creates his next print.

By the end of the class, there are peace signs and cityscapes, forests and flowers drying on the table. When asked about her favorite class now that she’s been to six, Sophia Browner, 6, replies: “This one. I like painting.”

Allison agrees with that assessment, saying there was a lot of energy and art being made. “Play and experimentation are incredibly important in art-making and therefore play a large role in how I teach, and I saw a lot of that going in this past class,” Allison says. “The kids always amaze me at how knowledgeable they are about art and how in tune they are with their feelings and observations about the work they are looking at.”

Read the original article from the January/February 2019 Issue:

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Chapel Hill Magazine is a 8-times-a-year lifestyle magazine dedicated to bringing you the very best of Chapel Hill. Our magazine places high emphasis on food and dining coverage, the arts, and community.


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