Working Together

And loving it.

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I have worked at Ida Freeman Elementary School for four years. It was in my second year at the school that I heard about a teacher's aide who was also an artist. It was my third year that I was told to check out his paintings hanging in the hallway - Jaguars that he had donated to the school since the school's mascot is a Jaguar.

Then I learned that the Jaguars were just the beginning of what was going to be turned into an art museum in one hallway of the school. The principal, Nicole Marler, approached me saying that I would have two bulletin boards in this hallway, one for 3rd Grade and one for 4th Grade art.

It was the 5th Grade art teacher, Rebecca Courtney, who told me she was starting an Art Club with Josh - the teacher's aide and artist I had heard so much about. She told me to connect with Josh, and when I did we were halfway through a conversation before I found out he was deaf. He can read lips so well, I didn't even realize he was deaf.

Due to my schedule at my other elementary school it hasn't worked out yet for me to be a part of Art Club, but as I hung my students' art in the hallway, I started to see the walls fill with 5th Grade art and Art Club art, and I saw the vision come to life. It's all kinds of wonderful to walk through. The second story hallway is tucked at one end of 4 hallways that make a square. It has some natural light that pours in on the art, making it a hidden treasure to come across.

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But this post isn't about the art hallway at Ida Freeman, this post is about Mr. Josh.

Moon

Mr. Josh works with some of the students I have in 3rd Grade, so usually on Thursdays I can count on him popping in to check on a few students, and if we're really lucky, he gets to sit down and make art with us.

On one particular lesson we were creating miniature Asian Scrolls with bamboo and cherry blossoms. The example that I showed them had a full moon. It was Mr. Josh who had the brilliant idea of cutting out a circle and using it as a mask to paint the black ink around. When he removed the mask the students and me oohed and aahed. Later he told me, "I hope I didn't distract from what you where trying to do."

"Are you kidding? You made it so much better! It's a great idea and they loved it."

I will always teach it with the mask for the moon now.

Work in progress

On another occasion he popped in on my lunch break to ask if he could borrow some of the painted paper we were using and some string. He came up with these tiny signs to hang on the art club pieces that were on display, but still unfinished. I was thrilled to have the painted paper used in such a creative way.

Angry Birds

Most recently Mr. Josh created Angry Birds with us in our clay lesson. His versions were a big hit with the students, and he let me keep them as samples. These are just some of the examples of what he made with us throughout the year. He is always wowing us.

I think it adds a tremendous amount to the lesson to have his presence in the room. It helps students see that every artist has a different approach to the subject and art mediums. I also think a kids classroom with two adult artists expands the creative potential because we feed off each other for inspiration. I feel happier when Josh is a part of things, and I know the students do as well. There is a creative synergy that fills the room.

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Dolls

Josh is every bit the Artist in Residence I talked about in a previous post. He is all over that building, physically and through his art. There are paintings he made of Martin Luther King Jr. in teachers' rooms. There is his art in the hallways. There are Muskogee Creek dolls and miniature books of how to count to 10 in Creek on the school library shelves.

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I even got to sit in on a presentation he did about Native American History as a part of the 3rd Graders Oklahoma History/Land Run Unit. He had beautiful paintings on canvas representing each of his talking points. It was rather jaw dropping listening to him share his own experience of cultural assimilation, and how he uses his art to educate himself about and return to his roots. The more time I spend with him the more I am impressed by his willingness to take action. To do something with his art and his passion. It is very inspiring to me. He's the kind of person you want to be around because he's doing things that matter, and he's still curious and learning, even as an adult. I love that.

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In December of last year Josh invited me to attend the show Inclusion in Art at The Art Hall. He had several pieces in it. At that time I got to hear about his artist name, Dead Feather, and really learn the heart of what he is trying to say with his work.

This Spring I asked him if he'd be willing to show his art at our gallery in Wholeshot Coffee. He accepted and we hung his art over the weekend. It includes paintings, two books, sculptures that double as incense burners and his dolls. It will be up all May and he is doing a Q & A on May 11. I am delighted to have this venue to share his art with our community, and am thrilled I, and my students, get the opportunity to work with him firsthand.

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You can follow Dead Feather on instagram and contact him via text or email to purchase his art. If you are local, we'd love to have you swing by on May 11.

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