Teaching the young at art
Morgan County Primary School students create life-size replicas of their homeroom teachers
Story by Jessica Blomquist
Photos by Angelina Bellebuono
Morgan County Primary School art teacher Bess Carter wields a rolled-up tube of art like a sword, explaining to her students how to transport the art they have created in the last five months home safely for the summer.
“Your tube of art is not a sword or a telescope or a baseball bat or a lightsaber,” she says patiently to the squirming bunch of first graders sitting on the multi-colored rug in front of the miniature pint-sized chair on which she has perched her petite five-foot, two-inch frame. “I want you to pretend it’s a newborn baby. Would you stuff a newborn baby in your backpack?”
Her students reply with a chorus of “no’s.”
“Would you throw a baby in the air?”
“No!” they shout, some giggling and mimicking holding a baby in their arms.
After that lesson, she has the children move to their chairs as quickly and calmly as six- and seven-year-olds are able, where they play with modeling clay while their art work is passed out to them.
The project the students are currently working on has them creating life-size drawings of their homeroom teachers. John Almand, a six-year-old first grader said, “Drawing my teacher was my favorite thing.”
Carter used a projector to take the children’s drawings and trace them onto butcher paper so they would be life-sized. She wanted to create art that could be hanging in the halls as soon as school starts back in the fall since the children take their artwork home before summer.
For the project, Carter had each student draw his or her homeroom teacher. Then, the drawing “which captured the essence of the teacher the best,” was selected, Carter said.
Almand’s drawing of his homeroom teacher, Ms. Zimmerman, was chosen from among those of his classmates.
After tracing the drawings of each teacher onto white paper, the students took turns painting them. In August, Carter plans to hang the teachers’ pictures in a parade down the halls, complete with speech bubbles for the teachers to fill in during pre-planning and “Hello, my name is…” stickers to identify them.
Surprisingly, even though the drawings are outrageously caricature-like, with exaggerated features and bright colors, most of the 47 teachers, along with Principal Betsy Short, are easily identifiable.
“What I like most of all are my skinny legs,” said MCPS teacher Ellen Beckham, while looking down at her life-sized likeness being painted by three students. “I’d take those legs any day.”
According to Carter, the most accurate part of fellow teacher Gloria Hunter’s picture is the flailing arms and hands.
“Evidently they see me like that,” Hunter said good-humoredly, imitating the outstretched arms and flapping hands of her 2-D likeness.
Carter’s students and colleagues are quick to compliment her as a teacher. Short said Carter excels at following the quality core curriculum objectives while still creating interesting and informative lessons for her students.
“Her classroom is a fun place to be while they’re still learning,” Short said.
She communicates with other teachers to integrate the student’s lessons from other classes into their art projects.
“She works on the idea that all children are artists and can do well. And because of her attitude, they do,” Short said.
In addition, Carter coordinates fundraising events to earn money to pay for projects in class. On April 10, she organized a museum-like exhibit of the student’s matted and framed artwork, which parents were then allowed to purchase. She is also more than willing to create banners and artwork for the Christmas parade, Relay for Life, and other school events.
“All the faculty and staff constantly talk about how good she is,” she said.
Her students clearly love her and her class because she enables them the ability to be creative and have fun.
“She’s nice and she helps us learn art,” said 7-year-old first grader Morgan Goodman, who also said that art was her favorite class and who enjoys drawing pictures of animals, fish, and turtles.
“I’ve loved [art] since I was the age of these kids,” Carter said.
Originally from Pine Mountain, Ga., in Harris County, she credits her parents, Ed and Martha Jo Oliver, with first encouraging her interest in art. As the youngest of four creative children, she said her parents allowed her to do whatever she wanted and be as messy as she liked to entertain herself.
“My parents gave me the ability to experiment and create and do things and that helped me become more creative,” she said.
She also had their example to follow, both as artists and as teachers.
“My parents are both very creative and artistic,” Carter said.
Her father paints and writes poetry. He currently teaches physical education at Mulberry Creek Elementary School. Her mother is a seamstress and a hat maker. A third grade teacher for 32 years, she is now retired.
Harris County High School art teachers Amy Patterson and Cathy Chambliss further supported her interest in art.
“I had excellent art teachers in high school who really encouraged me and were really great about helping students know what careers are in art,” she said. “I have kept in touch with both of them.”
By the time she began college at the University of Georgia, she had an impressive portfolio of art and declared her major in art education immediately in the fall of her freshman year.
She graduated from UGA in 2000, having already been hired at MCPS in her first and only job ever.
She chose to work in Morgan County because it allowed her to commute easily from her home in Watkinsville, where she lives with her husband Keith and their three children, Lily, age six, Sam, age four, and 11-month-old Charlie. Keith is a fourth grade math and science teacher at Rocky Branch Elementary School in Watkinsville.
She knew that she wanted to work with young children after spending many summers when she was younger as a counselor at Rock Eagle for 4-H camp.
“I love the enthusiasm that young children bring to their art,” she said. “They are very uninhibited and have yet to become self-conscious about their abilities.”
In her spare time, she likes to sew, paint, and is involved in the Georgia Art Education Association.
“I think it makes me a better teacher if I’m making my art too,” she said.
Carter loves her job and finds many aspects of it to be rewarding.
“I love when I present a new project or demonstrate a cool technique and the kids start to buzz with excitement,” she said. “I love when they tell me they want to be an art teacher when they grow up. I love when they tell me they can’t do something and then they do. I love seeing what beautiful art they create.”
It is clear that Carter teaches these children about more than just artistic techniques and renowned artists. She teaches students to be confident and to find pride in their hard work.
“I have so many students that really excel in my class that struggle in other subjects. It is great to see kids feeling successful. Making art and seeing it displayed throughout the school gives them so much pride.”
She also shows her students that art is not relegated solely to museums. She points out that artistic talent can be found in advertisements, on television and in video games, among other places.
Most of all though, she said, “I want them to know that art IS important and without it, the world would be a very dull place.”