Now in its third year, Young Artists of Florida gives children of the Florida Sheriffs Youth Ranch an opportunity to dabble in art and benefit from its therapeutic effects. The participating children, whose ages range from about 7 to 17, visit the Museum of Fine Arts every other week for a six month period and learn from local artists who volunteer their time to teach and assist. Last year was my first year volunteering with the program, and I served as an assistant. This year, I wanted to be even more involved, so I volunteered to teach. October 7 marked the date for my class.
One might assume that I would be teaching painting since that is my own medium of choice. But, because many of the previous classes have revolved around drawing, sketching, and two-dimensional processes, I wanted to give the children a new experience. I decided on a project that would demand their full attention, something where they could get really messy and divert their focus from whatever troubles they might be facing from being separated from their families. Thus, I chose paper mache. More specifically, we would make "balloon bowls."
When the students arrived, they were welcomed by a plastic-covered floor and tables lined with piles of newspapers next to aluminum pans filled with flour. Only a couple of the 24 students knew how the materials would be used. After watching a brief slideshow about paper mache, we got started. The students inflated balloons and attached a cardboard base. We then tore the newspapers into strips while the assistants walked around to each table pouring water into the aluminum pans. It was time to mix the "paste" and begin dipping each strip of paper into the pan to then adhere it to the balloon. Most of the children loved submerging their hands into the flour mixture, feeling the texture and coolness of it. They remarked on its smell, like that of pancakes. A couple of them were hesitant to touch the paste and "get their hands dirty," but eventually they relinquished.
When the balloon "bowls" were complete, I had smaller balloons available for students to paper mache and create ornaments. By the end of the class, everyone was having fun with the extra balloons - inflating them, popping them, and taking a few home for later. It felt like a party. It was fun, and that's the way art should be. That's the way life should be.
The Young Artists of Florida program was created by Thomas Ris, a local businessman and arts supporter. It is made possible through donations, the Public Art Project, the Museum of Fine Arts, and local volunteers.