Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Black History Month: Magic Trash

I like to think of myself as a pretty crafty person. And a creative one too. So it just about kills me that I'd 1) never heard of Tyree Guton, 2) this book or 3) a program using found objects until Ms. Erin came along and introduced me to Magic Trash . Here she is in her own words to explain my favorite Black History Month program EVER!

I’m Lucy’s colleague, Ms. E, and it’s an honor to be guest posting here at  In the Children’s Room.  I wanted to talk about a recent program that I did for Black History Month—I really wanted to do something that would be different, hands-on, and engaging for a range of ages. Also, I knew I wanted to focus the program around a less well-known figure, maybe even one who was still alive.

Somehow (I honestly don’t remember how at this point) I learned about the picture book biography Magic Trash (text by Jane Shapiro, illustrations by Vanessa Brantley Newton). Inspired by the life of Detroit artist Tyree Guyton, it tells the story of how Guyton grew up as a poor but art-obsessed kid and later returned to his neighborhood of Heidelberg Street as an adult. Determined to uplift and inspire, Guyton turned houses and vacant lots into pieces of installation art that people travel from far and wide to see. 

I decided to collect trash and various found objects (aka “junk”) and invite each child attending the program to create their own found-object sculpture.  I collected some items myself, but also sent an email request to our list of all children’s staff, and received contributions from 4 or 5 other staff members. There were some interesting boxes in the inter-office mail!    I specifically requested coffee cans, used-up paper towel rolls, egg cartons and soda bottles.

The only things that I purchased for the program were two bottles of epoxy glue (about $4.50 each) from the local art supply store.  I did add some craft supplies from our cabinet at work: popsicle sticks, colorful construction paper, fuzzy puffballs, pipe cleaners, and buttons, as well as a few plastic toys we had lying around. 

I did this program for the first time last year, but it was at a different library with a different group of kids, so I was a little nervous about attendance and how it would be received. I shouldn’t have worried, because it went really well!  Our participants ranged in age from 4 (assisted by an adult) to 12, and included a number of our regular after-school kids, as well as some younger ones who came specifically for the program and were accompanied by parents/nannies.

I adapted the text a little as I was reading, because it sometimes feels simultaneously too young and too old; the real star was Vanessa Brantley-Newton’s illustrations. Many of the older kids know her art style from the covers of the Ruby Booker series, and some of the younger ones had read Don’t Let Auntie Mabel Bless The Table. I also printed off a bunch of color photographs of Tyree Guyton and various installations on Heidelberg Street to pass around; I wanted the kids to get a vivid sense of him as a real person working in a real place, and to be able to compare the actual installations with Brantley-Newton’s paintings.
After that, I explained the project and brought out the supplies; there was some minor scuffling (from the big kids!) over sharing supplies, but fortunately Lucy was there to moderate behavior while I put out supplies and gave a quick explanation of how to use epoxy glue and why younger ones should ask an adult to help them. 

Everyone had a great time coming up with ideas and sharing them!  There were a few moments of frustration with the epoxy glue’s slowness to dry, as well as a couple of people who were concerned about sensitivity to fumes. (ed: That was me, I am stupid sensitive to smells and had to leave the room at one point.) I deliberately chose an adhesive with a slower drying time because I needed something that could hold heavier items, but I didn’t want kids gluing themselves together with super glue.  If there’s a less-toxic but still strong adhesive, I’d be interested in suggestions.  

Most of the children took their projects home, but a few left them for us to display, which has provided an opportunity to share the story of Tyree Guyton and Heidelberg Street with others who weren’t able to attend the program. I generally don’t think of myself as a “crafty person” and don’t have an art background, but I love projects like this that are discovery-oriented and don’t require specialized knowledge.  I’m already trying to brainstorm the next outside-the-box idea to introduce kids to great thinkers and creators!

Thanks Ms. Erin! It really was a great program and we have kids who see the display ask if they can make their own all the time. Below are a few more pictures of our Magic Trash Sculptures. Enjoy!

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