by Bryn Pennington, Friends School Art Teacher
Growing up in the Bay Area, CA, I was exposed to a rich tapestry of cultural traditions. I remember rubbing turmeric on my friend so she would glow at her three day long Hindi wedding, and rolling sushi with friends from Japan. I felt humbled to experience the traditions of my closest friends, and today feel reverence for the people that shape them. I hope to grow appreciation for such traditions in Art Studio.
My first memory of Chinese New Year happened in San Francisco. I remember squeezing through the thick crowd to glimpse a terrifying creature parading through loud, popping firecrackers. He was a long maze of red fabric and impossibly yellow fringe, growing three stories tall in one stride and coiling down to stare down onlookers the next. As he approached me, I realized my mom and dad were very far away! Thankfully, he cocked his head and blinked. With a playful nudge, he continued his acrobatic path down the street.
Teaching in California decades later, we had our own celebration complete with stories, a Lion Dance (drums and fireworks of course), a feast of moon cakes and home-made potstickers. Many parents visited our classroom and explained their connection to Lunar New Year as well as the nuances that differentiated their country’s celebrations.
Lunar New Year is celebrated around the world, and Friends School is no exception. I invited Moon to share about the origin of Chinese New Year:
“(It’s) about a legend … (about) a monster called Nian. It came out to the villages and tried to scare people and hurt them… First, the gods came and locked him up on the edge of the world, where he stayed for one year. But then, the Nian escaped. People gathered in the village, and asked the gods to help them. The gods told them that the Nian was scared of the color red, loud noises and his own reflection. That’s why we dance with real firecrackers to make noise, to scare the Nian away… the lion from the lion dance represents the Nian’s own reflection. And that’s how people scared the Nian away.”
This year, Lunar New Year is January 25th. In Art Studio, each class will create a different art form representing this holiday, from fierce Lion masks to drums, glowing lanterns to Chinese Zodiac drawings. We read stories, compare traditions country to country, and watch performances to get a taste for the holiday that involves 20% of humanity. And, if we’re really lucky, we’ll see another Lion Dance to scare the Nian back to the edge of the world!
Happy New Year, everyone!
If you have a Lunar New Year tradition to share, please email Bryn at email@example.com.Read More
An interview with Friends Spanish Teacher, Maria Gamboa, by Lou Bendrick
Tell us a little about yourself: What did you do previously and what brought you to teach Spanish at Friends School?
My family is from Mexico. I came to the USA to do my Ph.D. in Chemistry. When I was doing a post-doctorate at the University of Illinois I met my Polish husband, Krzysztof, and we decided to stay here in the USA. When we got our daughter, Monika, I decided that I wanted to take care of her at home. With the passing of the years, I changed careers and decided to teach Spanish, a career that I enjoy profusely.
For those who don’t know about Day of the Dead, will you explain what it is and why it is celebrated?
The Day of the Dead is a celebration to honor our ancestors. Its origins reside in the Mayan culture. However, with the coming of the Spaniards, the traditions from both sides got mixed and developed the Day of the Dead the way we celebrate it nowadays. So, in Mexico people go to the cemetery to clean the tombs of their beloved people who are not with them anymore and sometimes they stay in the tomb to talk, eat, drink, and sometimes even sing, talking about the person(s) and remembering the good times. In the evening, people go to a special Mass offered for the deceased. At home, people set “altares,” which are tables nicely ornamented to call and honor the spirits of their ancestors.
Where did you grow up and what were your family’s Day of the Dead traditions?
I grew up in several parts of Mexico. We did not visit the tombs of my relatives because they were in other States. Some years we set “altares” to remember our grandparents and we used to go to Mass to pray for their souls.
What are your traditions now?
I passed the traditions to my daughter, although we do not celebrate it formally at home. However, I enjoy talking about it at school and sharing the traditions of my country with my students.
What is your favorite part of this holiday?
All of it! When I teach it to my students, I enjoy comparing and contrasting it to Halloween. Also, I like the idea of colorful skulls, so as to say that we are not “afraid” of the dead but consider it as part of life.
Will you be doing anything special in your Spanish classes to celebrate?
Yes! This is a collaborative project between Art and Spanish classes. From 3rd to 8th grades, I explain the differences between Halloween and the Day of the Dead. We talk about the altars and what elements should be included in them. The students plan to make an altar (this year 3rd and 5th) and the whole school (K-5) contribute to make the elements in Art class. In 6th to 8th grades, students make colorful skeletons from paper rolls. Also, 4th and 6th grades go to the Museum in Longmont where there is a special exhibition about the Day of the Dead (although this year it got cancelled because of the weather.)Read More
By Bryn Pennington, Friends School Art Teacher
Our middle school students love creating art. I love helping them develop their creative expression. When I can weave a larger world mission into an art studio project, it’s a plus for everyone. This week, our 6th graders had the chance to do both.
On March 18, the 6th grade students interviewed contemporary artist Lin Evola during their recent art studio project. Lin is the creator of Peace Angels, a creative project turned non-profit that began as her response to street violence in Los Angeles. When Lin learned of the LAPD gun collection program, she gained permission to melt down the collected weapons and transform them into symbols of peace. Her most famous works are the Renaissance Peace Angel housed in the permanent collection of the 9/11 Memorial Museumin New York City, and the Johannesburg “Spirit of Africa” sculpture unveiled by Desmond Tutu in 2003.
6th graders were invited to sculpt their own Peace Angels based on Lin’s words: “Before we can have peace in our world, we need to make peace in our home”. During this project, the 6th graders became curious about the artist and her process. They decided to interview her directly. They brainstormed rich questions, then made the call.
Rohan’s question was about her start as an artist. Lin was born an artist, painting and drawing early in her toddler years. By the end of high school, she was preparing for gallery shows in her hometown, Chicago.
Sadie next asked about her artistic inspiration. Art and life are the same for her, she mused, and art is her mode of expressing and exploring issues that call to her in our world.
Zahara inquired about her process and the time involved to make each artwork. Lin first “captures the lightning” by connecting with a concept. Next is the longest part of her process: researching and making drawings for an angel specific to a place or city. Depending on the size of the sculpture, assistants help her wield and sculpt the models, which range from 3’ to 11’ tall. After, she takes her sculpture to a foundry to be cast as metal from the molten weapons. This part of the process can take over 6 months.
Sadie asked what inspired Lin to first create the Renaissance Peace Angel. Lin began the first angel drawings in 1994, years before the 9/11 tragedy, as a “Renaissance of Humanity”. The sculpture stands for life and a reminder to lift each other up, rather than kill each other. She intended for it to be placed at the World Trade Center in New York, a place where people all over the world came to visit and work. Lin transported the Renaissance Angel to New York City in October 2001 as an act of gratitude for those working at Ground Zero. Over time, hundreds and hundreds of firefighters, police and workers signed their names and messages of thanks at the Angel’s base. Their words remain.
Aiyana asked why the peace angels are so big. Lin reflect that their scale really makes a different impression…more of an impact. Each is made from collected weapons and discarded nuclear casings, so the bigger the sculpture the more weapons are off of the streets. Lin’s current proposed project for a 64’ tall Angel, for example, would remove one million weapons from the world!
Henry asked what the Peace Angels represent to her, and why she choose angels. As an artist, Lin needed a symbol that could lift human beings up….one that could get “humanity beyond ourselves”. She also needed a symbol that could inspire, but still be relatable. So, she choose angels.
Zahara wanted to know how many angels Lin has made. Two Peace Angels have been installed so far, as well as many dozens of smaller models. For example, President Bill Clinton and Jordanian Queen Noor al Hussein each accepted smaller angel sculptures from Lin. Her next big projects include twelve 11’ Peace Angels throughout Los Angeles and three monumental sculptures in New York City, Los Angeles, and Silicon Valley.
Aiyana asked how much each sculpture costs and where she gets the money to make them. A family friend gifted Lin money for the initial foundry work on the Renaissance Peace Angel. She now funds all of her work through sales of art and jewelry. Some patrons purchase angel sculptures for $250,000, but most donations are small. Because so many people donate money toward the Peace Angels, Lin considers them a project by and for everyone.
The final question gave Lin some time to reflect. What was a recent accomplishment or struggle as an artist and what did she learn from it? For Lin, it was letting go of the Renaissance Peace Angel after it’s installation at the 9/11 Memorial Museum. She had spent over 30 years thinking about it, creating it, and then moving it and installing it at its new home. She likened it to raising her son and then sending him out into the world. With its installation at the Museum, Lin joined the few hundred living American artists whose work is part of a permanent collection. Feeling this accomplishment, Lin set the Renaissance Peace Angel free and can focus on new cities, angels and art.
As the interview ended, the 6th graders put on the finishing touches on their own clay angels…the wings. The spirit of Lin’s work and the sound of her voice resonated in the art studio. The final step was to bury a paper scroll inside each sculpture. On each scroll, students had written a “trouble” – a regret, source of pain, or something they found it hard to forgive themselves for. As the angels are fired, the scrolls burn to ash. Whatever “trouble” kept students from finding peace is gone.
The Peace Angels project has a profound impact on our students. I hope they share their work with you and inspire you to spread more Peace Angels throughout our world. We’re honored to be doing our part at Friends School to bring Lin’s message of “holding up the light” to our community and beyond.
Art is everywhere at Friends School! These beautiful wings are a collaborative project by Kindergarten through 3rd grade (in the coming months, look for permanent wings on the playground). Meanwhile, 4th grade is “tagging” the playground with positive messages using chalk spray paint and homemade stencils. Look on the 5th grade windows to see their “hopes and dreams” outlines/portraits. Want your own wing photo? Go to the Art & Music room!Read More