This month, a collaboration between 9-year-old children and a decades-old art collection is stepping into the spotlight in downtown Tuscaloosa.
Elementary school students selected cookies from assorted grocery store trays. Teachers congregated and disbanded, looking at the paintings and photographs on the walls and greeting the students whom they’d seen in class just a few hours earlier. Parents snapped photos and speared cubed melon onto forks, all while keeping an eye on the artists in residence: their very own children.
At the Paul R. Jones Museum, paintings from the fourth grade students at Woodland Forrest Elementary School are sprinkled in among pieces from the Paul R. Jones Collection of American Art. The exhibit, titled “Inspired,” is a fusion of childlike smiles, elementary paints and spellbinding professionalism.
To Crystal Watts, whose daughter’s art is hanging in the museum, the exhibit is a launching pad to bigger and better things.
“I didn’t even know she was doing art like this and I was elated to be her mother,” Watts said. “She’s only 9, in the fourth grade, so I just think it’s amazing. It’s like the sky is the limit.”
In the museum, one wall sports a large tableau, painted by the Atlanta-based folk artist James H. Malone. It depicts, in curvy, fluid lines, two pairs of patrons buying tickets to see a movie at an old-fashioned brick theater. The building’s marquee curves around a corner and shines with big yellow light bulbs.
On either side, equally colorful paintings from the students at Woodland Forrest hang. In one, a pink Mary Jane heel is decorated with a bar of music notes and the words “Swing! Dance,” written in thick capital letters. In the other, a woman haloed in colors stands before a microphone. Even further down both sides of the wall, four pictures of students learning to play the glockenspiel and metallophone complete the scene.
This is all a part of the museum’s K-12 fellowship, wherein students from Tuscaloosa City Schools are tasked with creating art that will hang in the gallery with pieces from the Jones collection, lending the art pieces in the Jones collection a greater accessibility.
For Rachel Hill, a fourth grade teacher at Woodland Forrest, it isn’t just the professional pieces that are worth seeing, but also the pieces created by some of her students.
“We must continue teaching the arts in order to support self-expression and foster creativity in students,” Hill said. “Through collaborative efforts, such as the joint art show between Woodland Forrest and the Paul R. Jones Gallery, our community will be enriched and inspired by the art created by the Woodland Forrest students.”
UA sophomore Isabelle Page, who is majoring in vocal music education, also believes in the power of arts education.
“[Music education] is vital to self-expression,” Page said. “Any form of the arts – music, drama, visual art – can express thoughts and emotions that words have no hope of fully capturing.”
The students from Woodland Forrest had two months to complete their artwork and learn a song on Orff instruments, which they played for the crowd in celebration of their gallery debut.
The song, called “Orffin’ Blues,” was an original composition from the school’s music teacher, Jenna Pugh. The song takes its name from Carl Orff, the German composer and instructor who developed the music teaching method popular in elementary schools today, Pugh said. For Pugh, teaching the song to the students was just another example of how children thrive in art and music classes.
“You see another side of the students when they come into art and music,” Pugh said. “It really helps them come out of their shell and allows them to be creative in ways that they might not show throughout the rest of the day.”
The blues aspect of the music collides with the theme of the event. Pugh, along with art teacher Linda Smith, selected Harlem Renaissance as the theme for their collaboration. As Smith coached the kids through their respective paintings and Pugh led weekly lessons on the Orff instruments, they also visited the Jones collection and chose 10 pieces to match the theme.
Those pieces will hang on the walls of the museum until Feb. 22, when “Inspired” closes. Until then, a testament to the importance of art in elementary schools and collaboration between the University and the community is open for business.
“Inspired,” A Collaboration Between Woodland Forrest Elementary School and the Paul R. Jones Collection of American Art
Where: Paul R. Jones Museum
When: Monday – Friday, 9 a.m. – 5 p.m.
Closes Feb. 22