Thursday, October 27, 2016


Bringing Art to the Students 

The Carnegie Picture Lab provides volunteer-led art history presentations and art instruction at least three times a year to every participating K-5 classroom in the Walla Walla Valley. The Picture Lab also supports the schools with library book donations, follow up activities, family fun nights, and field trips.

BRIEF HISTORY: Founded in the early 1970s as Carnegie Art Center's Picture Lady Program, the popular program was restructured when the original Carnegie Art Center building changed hands in 2009. With a new name, logo, and mission/vision statement, the non-profit organization expanded its board of directors and added new members with expertise in education, community outreach, communications, grant writing, finance, and leadership skills all with the goal of insuring the sustainability of the program for decades to come.

2016-17 SCHOOL YEAR: This year the students will explore portraiture and relationships with Mary Cassatt, printmaking with Ukiyo-e artists, and graphic color collages with Henri Matisse.

As a first-year volunteer, I signed up to teach three classes of 4th and 5th graders at Blue Ridge Elementary. I chose that school among the area grade schools because that is where my son attended K-4 many years ago, and it is also a feeder school to Garrison Middle School where I taught for 24 years. 

After the requisite volunteer training workshop, I was deemed ready to have a go on my own, so with the help of a Power Point slide show and several art posters, I introduced my eager students to the life and art of American artist, Mary Cassatt, who is most well known for her paintings of women and children. This segued into the art instruction of how to draw their own portraits where I demonstrated the basic guidelines for positioning the facial features and how to use a mirror to help draw their own unique features. This proved much more difficult than I had anticipated, so as a result few finished the project completely. But the photos below illustrate some solid first attempts at portraiture.

Students had a choice of materials to color their portraits; most chose chalk pastel over colored pencils or crayons. The use of pastels should probably have been a lesson unto itself, but I persevered and tried to give mini lessons to as many kids as I could in the time I had. 

These unfinished portraits show the relationship of the eyes, the nose and the mouth which was part of the art lesson. It was fun to witness the problem solving going on but also disappointing to see the self-doubt and inner critiques creeping in among these young artists. A dedicated K-12 art program would do wonders to allow kids to nurture the creativity that is naturally in all of us, but I'll save that for another discussion. At least they get an introduction to art three times a years via the Carnegie Picture Lab.

For more information about Carnegie Picture Lab, follow this link:

For more information about the history of the original Picture Lady program and the transition to the Picture Lab program, follow this link: