The last day of 2012 was celebrated with seasonal art by members of City of Vaughan’s special needs programming at the McMichael Canadian Art Collection. On Monday, December 31, eight participants gathered at Pine Cottage, where art instructor Anna Pallotta led a free-flowing art lesson inspired by the natural landscape of the McMichael grounds.
Participants settled in by creating oil pastel rubbings of leaves, pine needles and branches on paper. Pallotta distributed a modified tool of a three dimensional, round crayon that is easy to grasp. There was an array of colours to choose from, which gave the participants creative freedom rather than being restricted to a standard palette of earthy tones.
With reference to informative pictorial books on trees, Pallotta used large scale photographs as examples of what lines and shapes could be drawn to represent such a grand element of nature.
Using green, black and brown oil pastels, participants sketched elaborate trees in unique interpretations. Some were solitary, occupying the entire sheet of paper, others short and thin, in several rows, with broad, intertwining branches. Youth volunteers known as Leisure Buddies joined in the process as well, creating their own interpretive works.
Particpants proceeded to paint their canvas sheets with blue and red watercolours. They were given free reign with each and every stroke of the brush. Horizontal, vertical and diagonal lines of colour spread across each tree, painting a moody, atmospheric background.
Immediately after the paint was applied, Pallotta instructed participants to spread layers of rock salt on top of the paper. The damp element of the paint activated the salt to create a stain on the material. When dry, the salt gives the paper a tactile texture and looks like snow.
Vanessa Amodio, a senior assistant within the special needs programming at the City of Vaughan, supervised the participants. Her main highlight of the group activity was the use of specific materials.
“I enjoyed the activities the children took part in,” Amodio said. “I liked how tactile art supplies like salt and leaves were available to work with.”
After laying the paintings on a rack to dry, the group bundled up with coats, hats and gloves to walk to the main gallery for a tour of Painting Canada: Tom Thomson and the Group of Seven. The group was intrigued by the exhibit and overall grand scheme of the gallery. The exhibit is organized by season, in order of spring, summer, winter and fall. From Tom Thomson’s Jack Pine, (c.1916-1917) to Lawren Harris’ 1930 definitive piece, Icebergs, Davis Strait, each gallery is dominated by colours associated with weather and scenic landscape.
Many participants made thoughtful connections to colours and shapes utilized in each piece. Returning participants from CONNECT, Jenna and Sabrina said that the gradient summer sunsets in Arthur Lismer’s Evening Silhouette, (c. 1926) reminded them of “the famous scene of Simba and Rafiki in Disney’s The Lion King.”
Although most participants could follow the gallery tour, some transitioned to spaces at a different pace, which became challenging. Amodio says that “some participants didn’t want to follow the group,” but it was easy to make sure all were monitored by staff members.
“Most of us had to split up to accommodate this, but we were well-equipped to handle this as we had lots of support staff,” she says of her two assistants and four Leisure Buddies.
The amount of staff present at the McMichael supported the simple transition that followed. Pallotta offered to accompany any members that wished to continue throughout the gallery, as some were curious about other exhibits such as the permanent collection of Inuit art. Others wished to get some fresh air, and were given the opportunity to roam clean, accessible pathways surrounded by snowfall and birch trees under assistant supervision.
As 12:00 p.m. rolled around, the half-way mark to 2013 concluded Kool Holidays. Parents picked up their children and were in awe of what they had completed that morning. The group members hugged their friends and City of Vaughan staff with positive wishes for the New Year. Their tree sketches and nature rubbing works were a great way to celebrate “branching out” in 2012 and into another year filled with more inclusion, acceptance, accessibility and connection through art.
Be sure to check out Land Connections; an exhibit of 15 multimedia art pieces by members of CONNECT that will be on display at the McMichael Canadian Art Collection from Saturday, February 2 to Sunday, February 24, 2013