An ART CLASS Story: excerpt from
Forgetting to Fly
(My memory of stumbling up)
Chapter 30: The Blessing Box
I love to create art experiences because, like cream, what you need to know always rises to the surface. My studio art classes are for couples, families, friends, work-related teams, any and all groups who want to connect to each other (and themselves) better.
My last Art Camp class was made up of girlfriends who were on a weekend retreat, hoping to steal away from their hectic routines and have a little fun in their lives, while deepening their friendships. There were seven-middle aged women all different sizes, colors, shapes, and personalities. I guessed that they all had different positions in life and the one thing that they had in common was their history together.
Today was going to be fun and not too deep. I always asked the organizer ahead of time what the intention of the art class was, in order to create an experience that fit the goal of the group. They wanted something light, yet thought-provoking, and wanted to walk away with an art piece they would enjoy forever. Most times my art lessons were focused on the process, not the end product. The student would have a “ah ha!” moment while working, and didn’t even have to keep their artwork, because the lesson was imbedded in their memory forever. Today, though, we would have an end product.
Today we would make a Blessing Box.
The Directive: to decorate a 4” paper-mâché, heart-shaped box with mindfulness, and collect or make at least ten symbols that signify the gifts you have been given.
Easy enough !?
The students would have two hours to create and one hour for all seven women to share what they made. After giving the directive, I walked around my art room and showed them where all the supplies could be found. Paint, brushes, paper plates for palettes, papers of all kinds, glitter, colored clay, feathers, buttons, nature items I had collected, hot glue guns, pipe cleaners, and many, many other goodies. I prided myself with the enormous assortment of materials I had stored in bins, boxes, on shelves, and in drawers. There were thirty-two years worth of stuff I had collected in this art room.
Some students immediately started to collect and gather supplies as their mind moved in a million directions at once. Some were overwhelmed with all the possibilities and had a hard time just beginning. Others wanted to think the assignment through completely before they started. One student asked, “Should I decorate the box first, or work on the symbols?” I never tell them how to proceed and I responded, “Whatever you want to do.”
While I’m there to help them learn how to mix forest green or dark orange, and how to use a hot glue gun, my most important function is to watch them while they create their individual projects. During that time I would collect information I may use in the “sharing” part of the lesson. I saw that some women instantly began putting their project together, while other women sat and looked around the room, not having a clue where to start.
As in most of my art experiences there are always students who feel they “can’t do art.” Those who think they are “not creative.” When this comment comes up I always say, “Everyone is creative. It may not be in the art room, and that’s fine. It might be in the kitchen, or in the garden, or even behind the computer… but everyone is creative!!!” This tends to give the people who are struggling a way out. Because of this, I have already painted a saying on the wall in my art room. The large black letters state: “There are No MISTAKES in Art.”
To any students who struggle with ideas, I say, “When you share your art later, just say…‘I meant it to be this way.’” I want all my artists to play with the supplies, loosen up, and have fun. They are not being graded or compared. This project is to help remind each lady how blessed she is, and every Blessing Box will be unique, distinctive… her own.
Now the art room is in full swing. Everyone seems to be enjoying themselves while concentrating on their individual blessings. This was my intention. I see many symbols surfacing:
*a feather for freedom
*a stone for strength
*a curly ribbon for playfulness
*a button shaped like a light bulb for intelligence
*a cotton ball for a comforting personality
*a thumbs up made out of model magic for a positive outlook
*a small brush for creativity
*a tiny book made out of paper for curiosity
It never ceases to amaze me how many wonderful ideas come out of this class.
It’s then I noticed a young woman sitting in the corner, obviously a creative person because of the clothes she has chosen to wear. Her makeup is perfect and her streaked, spiked hair makes her look younger than she probably is. Although she is beautiful, her facial expression is numb and her body language looks defeated, much different from when I met her earlier that day. She had looked directly into my eyes while shaking my hand saying, “I’m excited to meet you, but I’m nervous because I heard that you make people cry.” I squeezed her hand while saying, “Yes, I’m known for that, but today we’re just going to have fun.” She seemed relieved.
As I walked up to her she smiles a weary smile and says “I’m having a hard time thinking of any blessings. I know I have some but I just can’t think of any right now.” This art class was one hour into the session and I hadn’t noticed her hesitancy until now. She had not even started the project and was paralyzed with fear. Why did it seem like it was always the ones who were so put together, so beautiful, so precise in every detail who have so much trouble getting started? This had happened many times before. It was the perfectionists who couldn’t let themselves relax and have fun. They wanted their art to be perfect, to be the best. I needed to neutralize her incapability of moving forward, so I asked her, “What is the definition of a blessing?”
“A gift from God,” she replied.
“What is one gift that you have been given?” I asked.
She put her head down.“I don’t know.”
“Do you mind if I ask your friends here what your gifts are?”
She raised her head and whispered reluctantly, “No.”
So I asked the class, “What are your friend’s blessings?” An eruption of comments came from all over the art room. “Generous, trustworthy, accomplished, fun to be with, spiritual, smart, loyal…” When the list of attributes stopped I picked the last one and said, “What would a symbol for “loyal” be?”
“A puppy” she said, and a small smile broke through with the realization. I led her to a large box labeled “Miscellaneous Stuff” and she found a darling cloth patch of a small dog. “This is your first blessing,” and I stuffed the symbol into her heart box. From there she added:
*a clear glow drop for an open soul
*a wooden cross for her Lord and Savior
*a wiggly eye for her insight
*a band-aid for healing and so on.
It was later, while she was sharing with the group, I learned that this beautiful young woman had lost a child a few years ago. He was found floating face down in their swimming pool. She cried while explaining, “I will never be whole again.” Her friends gathered around her as she struggled to share her Blessing Box.
She had found fifteen blessings to symbolize. The last symbol she had made was a small line of paper dolls, all holding hands. As she unfolded the little people she said, “And my friends are the most important gift I have been given. They make me laugh and feel good about life. I don’t think I would survive without them all.”
The art class ended with seven wonderful heart-shaped boxes filled with gifts from God and the understanding that no matter what life brings, we are all truly blessed.