Bringing Art to Remote Areas

 

March 13, 2019

Painting Sound. Elayna Adams and Amanda Mord share their abstract art produced during Michelle Summers' art lesson. Both girls portrayed the sounds of the wind.

Michelle Summers, a professional artist originally from Portland, Oregon, who currently serves as a resident artist with the Holter Museum of Art in Helena, Montana, presented an art program to Zurich Elementary and Cleveland School students in Zurich on Wednesday, March 6, as part of the Art Mobile Montana Program.

Similar to a bookmobile that expands the reach of traditional libraries by transporting books to potential readers and providing library services to people in otherwise-underserved locations, Art Mobile Montana (AMM) provides a traveling art outreach program for schools, the general public, and diverse groups who may have limited access to museum quality art exhibits.

Summers, a ceramic artist by profession, is the Holter Museum of Art's first artist in their recently established Artist in Residency (AIR) Program. The AIR is dedicated to enriching the lives of artists and providing them with space to create.

According to Summers, the AMM is the only program of its kind in Montana. This statewide service offers interactive presentations of curated exhibits, hands-on art lessons by a professional artist, and teacher education. "AMM emphasizes the importance of art and of relating to art in a personal way," Summers said. "It also educates, through art, about the diversity of the human experience, culture, practices, customs, and history."


The traveling exhibit includes works from approximately twenty-five contemporary Montana visual artists with thirty per cent of the curated exhibit representing the works of Native American artists. After students completed a gallery walk of the art, Summers asked them to explain how seeing art in person made them feel.

Several responded by remarking how art made them feel special, happy, or chilled. "We are all born curious, creative, and with a desire to tinker and express ourselves," Summers told students. "Art represents a visual language for that expression."

Summers then showed each piece in turn, inviting students to notice how the artist guides the eye and creates a narrative. "As people come together to discuss art and as it speaks to us, art has power to create a dialogue. We often start with the questions: What do we see? and What do we know? Then, we respond with stories of our personal connections that are mirrored onto the artwork," Summer said.

Because many of the students present were from rural, farming backgrounds, several shared a connection to an oil painting entitled Chester Sodbuster by Rob Akey, an artist from Whitefish. "Artists often paint to preserve a part of culture or history," Summers explained. "During the Industrial Revolution, farming moved from the horse and plow to gasoline-powered tractors, enabling farmers to turn more soil with less effort. The artist's work becomes a portal to this alternate time when tractors were called sodbusters since they were used to break ground. Simple objects like this can elevate every day experience to encourage appreciation for the ordinary and may teach us something about beauty in simplicity."


Others were intrigued by the portrait piece entitled Chief, an oil painting by Valentina LaPier from Browning. Amanda Mord noticed the presence of the red arrow entering the raven's mouth and indicating a spirit animal. Other students commented on the chief's expressive, almost smiling, eyes.

Following this interactive show and share session, Summers led students in an art lesson called "Painting Sound," an activity meant to mirror a unique condition called synesthesia in which one sense-when activated-serves to simultaneously trigger another unrelated sense. This may, for instance, take the form of hearing music while also sensing the sound as swirls or patterns of color.

Summers asked students to pick a sound and to think about any colors and shapes to depict that sound. She demonstrated on her own art paper, creating a shape, textures, and colors that represent how the whistling of a tea kettle might look.

After selecting their sounds-the whistling wind, a tractor starting, a dog barking, a man yelling-students used watercolors and oil pastels to visually express their sounds. Some used hair dryers to swirl their colors and to dry the watercolor so that it could be layered. In this way, each student created an abstract painting. At the end of the project, they displayed their art, celebrating not only creative expression but the colors and shapes of various sounds.


For answers to any questions or to schedule the Art Mobile, interested persons should contact Sara Colburn, Executive Director and founder of Art Mobile Montana (AMM), by calling 406 217-4418.

AMM is a non-profit organization supported in part by a grant from the Montana Arts Council and from the National Endowment for the Arts, which believes that a great nation deserves great art. Partial funding for this project was also provided by Montana's Cultural Trust, the Town Pump Charitable Foundation, and the Gallagher Western Charitable Foundation.

Art Mobile Montana. Professional artist Michelle Summers assists students during an art lesson at Zurich Elementary School.

 
 

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