by James O’Barr
Art in Olympia Storefronts is an ongoing project of the Olympia Artspace Alliance, and this year’s winter exhibit, “Light Up the Night—Winter Wonders,” went on view in the windows of the Goldberg building, Capitol Way at Fourth Avenue, on December first. Olympia-area teachers were invited to submit their students’ artwork celebrating the wonders of winter, and the exhibition features student projects from Tumwater’s Fine Arts Club Preschool at South Sound Dance, Tumwater Hill Elementary School (Kindergarten), Lakes Elementary School in Lacey, and Olympia High School.
In “Winter Observer,” Lakes Elementary’s third graders, under the aegis of art teacher Gaeme Smith, made “observational sketches” which record their unmediated visual experience of nature in winter and of plant life in the wild, in the moment. More than a drawing exercise, it was an opportunity to practice plant identification in the context of the geography and natural history of their Northwest home. It’s hoped that the display will encourage viewers to do likewise and make a practice of better getting to know their own natural habitat.
“Magical Natural Spectacle Festival,” Olympia High School’s National Honor Society exhibit, comes at this theme from another direction, going from realism to impressionism. Featuring a series of fancifully decorated and simply hung, fan-blown placards, art teachers Josh Everson and Courtney Warnick describe the students’ work as “a celebration of our future and our mysteriously beautiful relationship with the natural world as we have yet to know it.”
With unmitigated climate change made more certain by the recently concluded COP 28 conference in Dubai, the natural world “as we have yet to know it” could be beyond knowing within the lifetime of the children whose work is on display here. The “Rainbow of Feelings” exhibit, from the kindergarten kids at Tumwater Hill Elementary School, may be most relevant as our children come to terms with changing weather patterns and altered habitat. In their statement about the project, art teachers Merry Ehlers, Kimberly Wilson, and Wendy Taylor, explain that their approach is inspired by The Color Monster, a book by Anna Llenas, and A Little Spot of Emotion, a series by Diane Alber. “Colors are a useful tool,” they say, “to help young children distinguish the basic emotions of confusion, anger, sadness, fear, happiness, calm, and love. We guide children to identify their emotions and validate the spectrum of emotions. We also teach them how to express their emotions safely and work through difficult moments.”
Perhaps the most captivating of the exhibits for this viewer is the “Enchanted Forest Dwelling” created by 30 three-to-five-year-olds at South Sound Dance’s Fine Arts Club Preschool — an arts-enriched preschool program in Tumwater. With help from Fine Arts director Cyrra Robinson and teacher Alice Grendon, each child painted and decorated a small wooden house for actual as well as imagined forest creatures — birds, squirrels, foxes, gnomes, fairies, and nymphs — suspended from decorative tree branches. They also created dioramas on the “forest” floor, with painted mushrooms, moss, rocks, and found objects, and a little home for a chosen animal. All are beautifully and artfully displayed, and, according to Ms. Grendon, the project enabled sharing with the children the importance of having a home and a place of belonging. A sharing to light up the night.
Light Up the Night—Winter Wonders, an Art in Storefronts exhibit, Olympia Artspace Alliance
December 1, 2023 to March 31, 2024
The Goldberg Building
403 Capitol Way S (at Fourth Ave.), Olympia
Olympia Artspace Alliance
120 State Ave. #183, Olympia, WA 98501