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Interview with Whendy Carter: Art at Montclare

28 Jul Interview with Whendy Carter: Art at Montclare

I recently sat down with our school director, Whendy Carter for a quick chat about the importance of Art within our programs and her vision for our Art Curriculum in the long-term.

Jenny Bruce: Why is art so important to you?

Whendy Carter: Like most young children, I loved assembling and making things, and I began taking a more serious interest in art at around 10 years of age. I remember spending a lot of time in my room making things. In particular, I liked patterns and what was then called pattern painting, which was a movement popular during the late 70s and early 80s. Around the age of 13, I began sewing and making clothes. In working with textiles, I was captivated by graphic repetition, which was something I continued to explore in art school. Even today, decades later, fabric and reference to fabric remain a part of my work , as I continue exploring patterns and repetition, color, shape and form through collage. Recently, in my apartment, I created a studio space to continue my work.

JB: So it sounds like you have enjoyed working with lots of different materials over the years?

WC: Materials have always been important in my life. From the moment I got my start in Early Childhood, I saw the natural connection between art making and development of aesthetic sensibility. My own style of creating, in many ways, is similar to some of the basic concepts we explore with the children—color mixing and exploration of form.

Furthermore, my training at Bank Street provided a platform for, and an understanding of, delivering stimulating materials to children. We, as adults, tend to complicate and over-process things. For example, rather than giving children primary colors, basic forms and shapes to work with, we sometimes mistakenly give them pre-mixed colors, stripping away their opportunity to learn and explore.

Many of you have seen the cork bins in my office. No, I did not drink all that wine! I’ve been collecting corks from restaurants for many years. They are in my office as an effort to introduce simple materials into our classrooms—natural materials that can stimulate imagination. The teachers have an open invitation to use the corks, and they often do.

JB: How do you envision the new art space?

WC: When I first came to Montclare and saw that corner, sun-drenched room, I thought it was a natural choice for a studio. Our materials will be very basic: brushes, paint, paper, water, clay, found objects and recyclables. As of September, this room will be a dedicated creative space for self-expression. It is my hope and expectation that this new dedicated art space will send a strong message to our community regarding what we value for our children.

JB: Beginning in September, how will art be different from the way it has been?

WC: Art always has been important at Montclare, but we want to place new emphasis on our message that open-ended art and creativity are as valuable as other disciplines; as important to us as the more teacher-directed types of learning. Unlike math or science, art is free-flowing. Not knowing where you will end up is part of how we discover and learn. I believe that it is important to provide open-ended experiences, where the art does not look the same. The first time a child sees red paint touch blue is quite special. Why would we want to give them a formula? It is much more powerful for children to discover through process.

JB: What is your vision for our Art Curriculum in the long-term?

WC: I think what will be interesting to watch, especially for our 2s, is the development of their understanding of paint and materials over a 3 year period. They will be starting with one color and will focus mostly on stroke and mark making. Eventually, a second color will be introduced and they will explore two-color mixing. What happens over 3 years with children is that their color mixing becomes quite sophisticated. Working with red, yellow, blue, black and white provides a wonderful understanding of color.

Children will also work with clay a great sensory material, which develops hand strength. Clay is a wonderful material that helps children (and adults) work through emotions. In general, more exposure to tactile, sensory materials will allow children to work through feelings in a creative and productive way. Children will be doing a lot more open-ended work, combining different materials, learning about darks and lights, black and white, and using recyclables like newspaper.

Our teachers will be providing basic materials and projects will be process, not goal oriented. They will not be looking for any particular “end product.” Instead, the children’s work will take them wherever their creativity might lead.

In addition, over time, children will become familiar with the studio and will learn to explore and claim it as their own. Older children, with supervision, will know where to find materials and will know the rules about using the space. They will cultivate a sense of independence and autonomy that is developed through this process: “I know where to get paint,” for example or “There are interesting pencils over here.”

In terms of incorporating technology, the children may, with the help of their teachers, take photos to document the progress of their own work. This would allow children to create a digital portfolio.

JB: This sounds very exciting. I can’t wait to see the new art room!

WC: Me too!