Colorful cause

Walking to the Helman School cafeteria with 32 fifth-grade students from Michelle Cuddeback's classroom, I overhear two students discussing what they feel is a great name. Joy Light. Will she be full of joy and light?

They are about to find out.

Once in the cafeteria, the students are drawn like a magnet to the base of the stage. Above them, the stage has been transformed into an artist's studio just for them. Containers of bright, fancy, French dyes, stretched, white, silk panels and foam brushes are today's materials.

Joy Light, the resident artist, begins the silk-painting demonstration. She begins with how the dye works on silk:

Blend colors to create new colors. Use just a very thin layer of dye because dye runs through thread. Remember colors move quickly and water helps spread dye. Sprinkling salt on wet dye moves the dye around. Next, brush stroke techniques are modeled to create ribbon and fine-line effects. Now, dip the brush and gently shake off extra dye. Begin.

On this day, two projects will be created. One group panel on which each student will create a 3-inch design. Hearts, shapes, lines, blocks of color, tiny rainbows and words are painted on the single panel. This class panel will be auctioned off at the Jack-A-PALOOSA benefit for Jack Dorr, a Helman Elementary School third-grader who has cancer.

For the second project, each student designs her or his own hand-painted silk scarf. I can't say for whom. That is a surprise to be revealed in mid-May.

Sixteen eager artists stand in front of their panels. Last-minute instructions are given by Light, and the painting begins. Silence quickly fills the space. With no hesitation, the painting begins. Some artists use quick, confident strokes. Others move slowly along their panels. From a short distance it appears the students are dancing across their panels.

The only voice is Light's: "Cool ... One design idea ... Love how the green reacted."

Elijah Kim went into the project with a clear plan. "Chocolate at the way ends. Flowers on each side. One touch. A video game in the center."

As it turned out, there was no brown dye for chocolate, so "the other option was zig zags at the ends."

The artistic process "felt calm" to Yemaye Mclaury who created "Northern lights over the mountains of Maine" using "spider-like moves" with her fingers walking down the silk panel.

Thirty-two panels were created by Michelle Cuddeback's class. Now, materials are cleaned and readied for Joe Dunbrasky's 32 students to use.

Summing up the students' experience, Ruby Adams reflected, "We got to do our own stuff. Picking our own colors for someone who means a lot to you."

This was possible because of a $904 grant from the Ashland Schools Foundation.

Sixty-four students end their morning full of joy and light. They have created a class panel to help a 9-year-old friend in need and a gift for someone special.

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