Sarah Haugen’s third-grade class at Erie Elementary School in Chandler has studied several renowned artists and popular art forms, but the idea of abstract expressionism eludes them at first.
When asked to describe how the color yellow makes them feel, their immediate thoughts are about lemons and bananas instead of emotions.
But as they examine the works of Helen Frankenthaler, they begin to take turns pointing out the different shapes they see in the blobs of blue and red, and debating which way the paintings are supposed to be displayed.
The students are taking part in their monthly art enrichment lesson, made possible through Art Masterpiece, a national program in which volunteers visit classrooms to present pre-planned lessons. Training, lesson plans and activities are provided by the Chandler Unified School District.
The district’s objective, according to Art Masterpiece coordinator Lauren Majure, is to have a volunteer in every classroom to provide education through art, and to “ensure that art awareness and appreciation stays alive and flourishes for the next generation.”
Elementary students in Chandler do not take a regular art class as part of their school day, Majure said, so for some children, the lesson is their primary exposure to visual art. Without volunteers and funding from grants and donations, the program could not continue, she said.
Monica Shumway started volunteering for the program in Chandler because her kids attended the schools. She liked art and therefore thought the Art Masterpiece program would be a good fit for her.
She’s now the program coordinator at four Chandler schools and has taught the program in six buildings.
“It’s awesome,” Shumway said. “I love to research and find fun facts for the kids. I love to help them understand art and give them the tools to appreciate it, whether they’re in a museum or a lobby somewhere.”
Haugen said her students look forward to the day that Shumway visits.
While Haugen tries to incorporate art projects into her regular classroom activities, she doesn’t always have the opportunity.
“Getting time for it is the challenge,” she said. “So having this is something different for the students. They really enjoy it.”
Third-grader Ashten Nahrgang said art is one of his favorite subjects, and he enjoys learning new ways to create it from Shumway.
“I like to draw, and I’m pretty good at it, and I love to paint, but I’ve never done this before,” he said.
The students are taking a cue from Frankenthaler and creating their own abstract expressionist works using water and tissue paper to “paint.”
Nahrgang covers nearly every inch of his white paper with pieces of red, blue and orange tissue.
He sizes up his piece one last time before deciding that it needs one more torn and jagged piece of orange near the bottom corner.
“That is just stunning. All those beautiful colors,” said Shumway. “Do you like it?”
“I don’t just like it; I love it,” he said.