(pictured: Desiree Ivey)
Art helps you walk that mile in another’s shoes. So believes SHADY HILL SCHOOL, which, for 81 years, has held Teacher Training Courses often led by an artist that buttress educators’ ability to stand for equity and justice. Since the days of headmistress Katharine Taylor, teachers in training have taken art courses so that they can be effective in the school’s philosophy of children ‘learning by discovery’ which has them involved in recreating how people from other times and other cultures live.
Recently, the private school, in Cambridge, invited famed children’s book illustrator Floyd Cooper to such a session. The focus for the meeting, attended by over a hundred teachers and parents, some of whom traveled from as far as Philadelphia, was Cooper’s latest publication “Miss Crandall’s School for Young Ladies & Little Misses of Color” (Wordsong, 2007). Cooper has won numerous awards including ten American Library Association Notable Book Awards and three Coretta Scott King Honors.
The story relates how a courageous White teacher who, despite harassment from her neighbors in Canterbury, Connecticut opened her school to African American students. She kept it going long enough so that when persecution forced the school to close in 1834, the African American women, many the daughters of freed slaves, had learned that they deserved an education. Poetry from Elizabeth Alexander and Marilyn Nelson provides text.
The Kay Bourne Arts Report spoke with the director of Teacher Training at Shady Hill School about the program. Desiree Ivey, a native of Baltimore and graduate of Morgan State University and Johns Hopkins University, believes, “it’s important for teachers to understand they are educators and activists with a responsibility to help develop civic-minded young people.
“What’s so remarkable about Prudence Crandall is that this was a White female educator in 1834 who stood up to say that she was an educator for all people. That as a head of a school, when she was asked by an African American woman if she could participate in the classes with Miss Crandall’s White students, she saw her larger responsibility.
“I am struck by the courage of Prudence Crandall,” said Ivey.
Ivey adds that Floyd Cooper’s art gets the message of Miss Crandall’s school across in a way that only talking about it would not.
“While the sonnets are beautiful,” said Ivey, “the faces of the African American woman who are all shapes and sizes surrounding the image of the White female educator who has made it her mission to be a change agent for these women — that’s an image that’s hard to forget. Hers is a bittersweet story about a person in history very few people know about.”
“His art is a vehicle to teach us about ourselves,” she said.
At the March 19th session, Cooper demonstrated his technique of erasure art. He paints an illustration board with oil paint, and then, with a stretchy eraser, he erases the paint so that a picture emerges, rather like a sculptor with a block of marble chipping away until the figure he wants remains. He calls this method a “subtractive process.”
Earlier in the day, he showed his technique to children in the school. He said he likes to demonstrate that “there can be different approaches to age old problems.”