Choosing Change: Raw Green/Watercolor Workshop Part 2

July 20, 2012

Student painting watercolor inserts for handmade book. Lois Ehlert’s “Eating the Alphabet” used as inspiration.

“Find a way to be a benefit,” my son continually suggested, in response to my constant lament for the return of my lucrative career. I eventually took his advice. By combining years of nutritional research and even more years as a full-time artist, I developed the “Raw Green/Watercolor Workshop,” while applying for an after-school grant opportunity. Drawing upon my interest in watercolor painting, unrelenting enzyme research, and the science of healthy living, this workshop has potential as a universal benefit.

A girl and boy hammer nail holes into book spines.

A Book cover with student’s name and title.

In my previous post, “Choosing Change: Raw Green/Watercolor Workshop,” I described how one of the goals – to provide education about the important connection between raw food, enzymes, and great health – strongly connects to a newer goal – to make consuming raw green vegetables “fun.”  Smoothies, juices, and tasting with dips became sources of “fun.” In this post, art projects are presented as a “fun” way to become more familiar with raw foods.  One watercolor project, the handmade book,allows students to depict the artistic beauty of fruits and vegetables before tasting them. Then health benefits, researched and  printed on labels, are put into their books.

The “trump card”

For students, painting with watercolors can be as challenging as tasting raw green vegetables. They have to acknowledge and accept their beginner’s status. Offering fruit as a tasty “trump card” encourages persistence, especially when painting confidence wanes and students despair or “act out” as a cover up. Offering fruit as a reward, again a “trump card,” also encourages students to taste vegetables, especially raw green ones.

An unexpected outcome, of the workshop, was finding strategies to correct behavior problems. For example, in one class, a student became very frustrated. She first painted the required bright watercolors on a large sheet of paper and suddenly changed to wild erratic black strokes covering most of the colors. She loudly declared it “ugly.” I had instructed students to use the bright colors only. But I told her, “The black paint does not matter and “ugly” has nothing to do with anything.”

Nevertheless, she crumpled the painting, shot it in the wastepaper basket, and stormed out of the room. She eventually returned as we began our tasting session. She asked for more fruit. I requested that she retrieve the discarded drawing and proceed with the assignment to get more fruit and she complied. Luckily, the opportunity to taste raw vegetables, and especially the sweet fruits, helped her and many other students to focus and adjust their behavior.

The “Raw Green/Watercolor Workshop” is interdisciplinary. It incorporates biology, reading, writing, math, science, and visual arts, all while exploring composition, abstraction, page design, color theory, form, and foreground and background relationships in the handmade books.

Evelyn helping Maurice thread a needle.

Fine motor skills—such as painting, cutting folded pages, hammering nails (very loud, but they loved it), threading needles, gluing, and sewing book spines—are developed by various book construction activities. Once completed, the book becomes a resource to share with family and friends. Plus, until its pages are full, more benefits can be added. It reinforces the importance of consuming enzymes, a little known protein nutrient found in raw produce and destroyed by cooking food.

7 year-old Eugene’s book with strawberry and benefit label.

Enzymes can also be found in dried fruits and vegetables, raw nuts, uncooked grains, beans and other uncooked protein foods. Raw green vegetables are emphasized, because students, their teachers, and parents often refuse to eat them.

Combining visual art with tasting raw produce establishes a foundation to enhance creativity, develop self-confidence, and plant seeds for instituting and maintaining health. Consequently, the “Raw Green/Watercolor Workshop” fills in nutrition and art educational gaps, encourages future artists, develops art patrons, and promotes a healthy appetite for daily living.

“The Raw Green/Watercolor Workshop” was awarded a Milwaukee Public School Partnership for the Arts Grant. Matching community funds came from Alice’s Garden, Riverwest Artists Association, Walnut Way Conservation Corp, and Lena’s/Piggly Wiggly. For more information, please email me at terryevelyn@hotmail.com or visit evelynpatriciaterry.com.

– Evelyn Patricia Terry


Full Steam Ahead

June 22, 2009

If you’re  a teacher or you have a school-aged child, or maybe you’re just interested in education issues, you might have heard the acronym STEM, which stands for Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics.

Emphasis on STEM careers and STEM education has garnered federal attention and support, and some educational reformers use the term as a rallying call for change within the American school system.  They say a knowledge-based economy such as ours needs a workforce skilled in these disciplines to prosper — employees with the curiosity, the analytical skills, the working knowledge of computers and other technologies that STEM coursework fosters. You can’t argue with that.

Yet recently I heard someone suggest a one-letter revision to the STEM acronym. By changing STEM to STEAM, we acknowledge the critical role arts learning plays in educating children to their fullest capacity.  In a creative economy — one grounded in innovation and problem-solving — the arts are integral to developing critical thinking skills and to sparking the human imagination.

Listening to Here on Earth on Wisconsin Public Radio last week, I heard a fantastic example of STEAM learning. Margaret Wertheim of the Institute for Figuring, the program’s guest, explains how hyperbolic geometry was discovered by 19th century mathematicians, but at that time “no one knew how to make models of it and had come to believe that you couldn’t make physical models of it” — not until Cornell University mathematics researcher Daina Taimina used her skills with the crochet needle to create one of the first models of hyperbolic space.

Professor Taimina, who learned needlework in her childhood in Latvia, began crocheting the models in 1997, and she’s been at it ever since. [Read more about Daina Tamina in “Knit Theory” from Discover Magazine.]

Crochet hyperbolic kelp. Photo: Institute for Figuring.

Crochet hyperbolic kelp. Photo: Institute for Figuring.

Building on Professor Taimina’s discovery, Margaret Wertheim and her twin sister Christine noticed that, in coral reefs, nature makes its own models of hyperbolic space. And so the Australia natives began crocheting a coral reef hyperbolic model. Ultimately, they wound up spearheading a worldwide crocheted coral reef movement, involving tens of thousands of hours of accumulated labor and a model that fills a 3,000 square foot gallery space.

Here’s an excerpt of the interview with Dr. Wertheim:

The crochet reef project for us comes out of our combined interest in both theoretical ideas — math, science, logic, etc. — but also our love and deep engagement personally with the techniques of handmaking, and the commitment of physical labor, and physical time that it takes to do those things. It is whole body, whole mind, and I think in some sense, whole being.

It’s a project that resists our inclination to divide and classify. Instead, it invites further thought about relationships, not only about the relationships between geometry and fine craft but about conservation and what we traditionally regard women’s work.   Now, there’s an idea that has some steam.

To hear the full interview, visit Here on Earth‘s audio archives and select the June 17, 2009 program.  And for more stories on the relationships between science and art, browse NPR’s Morning Edition series “Where Science Meets Art.”

–Tammy Kempfert