A brother and sister ran down the steps into the basement classroom of the Hockaday Museum of Art, unsure of what their weekly art class had in store for them but eager to find out.
Their mother, Elizabeth Nelson of Kalispell, home-schools her two children, Luke, 10, and Scout, 6, but every Wednesday she hands them over to Kathy Martin, director of education at the museum, for a new artistic adventure.
“Art is very freeing to them, and it’s something fun they can do outside of the home,” Nelson said.
Luke took an immediate interest in the class about a year ago and has been going ever since.
Last week, he brought his little sister along for her first class where they joined four other home-schooled children for a lesson in printmaking.
Both Luke and Scout have shown an affinity for art and have taken various classes before, but at the Hockaday, Nelson said, they learn techniques they can take home and apply to other projects.
“[Art] opens them up to their own independence a little bit more, to things they like,” Nelson said. “They create things the way they see them.”
As parents left, Martin started her students off with a warm up, giving the children free rein to doodle and create whatever they want before moving on to the day’s objective.
The result was a submarine titled the S.S. Duck, a sewing machine one student got for Christmas and an aquarium of various ocean-dwelling creatures.
Martin began teaching the home-school class at Hockaday over 12 years ago, following her career as an elementary art teacher.
“The benefit of art for kids goes beyond being a kid,” she said. “[Art] is around us all the time and sometimes affects us in ways we don’t always think about.”
Each week she introduces her students to different art styles, mediums, materials and techniques that the children can take home to practice and incorporate into daily life.
“Sometimes on tours of the gallery, we talk about what is art, and it turns out it’s the furniture, it’s our clothes, it’s who designed the game on our computer,” Martin said. “All of that is art.”
Wrapping up the drawing session, Martin led the class upstairs into the gallery, reminding them to stay an arm’s distance from the displays.
The gallery featured an array of Inuit art, from glittering sculptures carved from walrus ivory to the day’s focus, colorful prints made using ink and seal skin.
Little hands shot up as Martin began asking questions about what life for the Inuit people (sometimes referred to as Eskimos) might be like in the Arctic.
What animals might live there? Where would they get paper in a place with no trees? How would they dress? What materials could they find to make art?
All six children looked on with wide eyes as Martin moved from piece to piece, using each to explain a different aspect of printmaking, from the colors used to the simplicity of the shapes.
Part of the class, Martin said, is learning how to look at things and processing what they’re looking at, learning how to look in a different way and how to be accepting of different opinions.
One print resulted in an unaided debate between classmates over whether the animal depicted was a penguin or seal.
After some reasoning about the shape and colors used, the students came to a consensus that it was, in fact, a seal.
Armed with new knowledge of Inuit culture and the difference between copies on a printer and art printmaking, the cluster of students rushed back down into the basement to begin working on their own projects.
They each chose an Arctic animal to create using “mock seal skin,” a circular foam plate cutout.
Scout chose a snowy owl while Luke drew up an intricate likeness of a musk ox.
Scarlett St. Marie, 8, drew and redrew the mermaid tail of her seal, finishing her masterpiece with whiskers and a smile.
Martin helped each student shape and detail their ideas without altering them before helping them cut out their homemade stencils.
Then, using printing ink and a rolling tool called a brayer, all six students got the chance to bring their animals to life in color on paper.
The room echoed with excitement as the girls and boys held up their black and turquoise creatures.
Scout pulled away her stencil to reveal a perfect copy of her owl in bright turquoise ink.
“I love art,” she said.
Reporter Mary Cloud Taylor can be reached at 758-4459 or firstname.lastname@example.org.