Lower School Art Brightens Winter Days

A walk through the Lower School hallways is always inspiring: mitten trees, calligraphic letters spelling out “kindness” and “friendship,” the faint hum of classroom activities in the background, and lots of bold, colorful, and joyful artwork. On a recent visit, we checked in with Lower & Middle School art teacher Bonnie Frith to learn more about the newly-completed works from students in grades 1-4.
The first graders had created winter-themed self-portraits, using watercolors and acrylic glitter glaze, that showed the students engaged in their favorite snowy activities.
As Frith explained, a big part of the assignment was an exploration of proportion. “It is hard for students that age to get the concept that everything relates to everything else, for example that the distance between your shoulders is three times the width of your head,” she explains. “With these age groups, I am always teaching new techniques but also the simple act of slowing down, looking, and really seeing what is in front of us.“
The second graders studied deceptively simple works from artists Joan Miró and Jim Dine. With Miró, they noted the use of primary colors (plus black and green) and the abstract use of basic shapes like circles, rectangles and stars. The students then created their own works modeling the style of Miró. “With this assignment,” Frith shared, “something happens when the students see the finished painting; see it all come together. Along the way it feels very simple—five colors, basic shapes and lines—but there are elements of balance and rhythm that start to come through as the pieces develop.”
In a similar way, when students created hearts inspired by the those of pop artist Jim Dine, they were experimenting with using various media and processes, such as spreading paint with a brayer, to create texture, depth and balance.
With the third-graders, Frith introduced the technique of weaving and the idea that weaving does not have to be limited to cloth. The students began by painting sheets of paper, which they then cut down into measured strips. They then wove the strips, added detail and dimension by gluing on different sized shapes, and applied a finish coat of acrylic glaze.
Fourth-graders immersed themselves in attention detail; spending hours completing beautiful, layered cityscapes.
The students began by creating winter backgrounds; these comprised tissue-paper collages with cut snowflakes glued on top. Then the students painstakingly decorated colored paper with gel pens. Frith notes that she originally gave the fourth-graders markers, but the finer tips on the gel pens meant that they had to slow down more and really be thoughtful about their decorations. Once the papers were decorated, students cut shapes for the various houses and the roofs and used white paper shapes for the windows and doors. The shapes were then arranged on the backgrounds and layered to create depth. “That assignment had a lot of pieces to it,” Frith shares. “Proportion, radial symmetry for the cut snowflakes, layering, creating depth, and of course the benefit of slowing down and enjoying the process of creating something new.”
If you have not had a chance to see some of the student work in person, artwork from all of our grades remains on display in the Performing Arts & Community Center and Founders Hall through the winter.
Gill St. Bernard’s is a private, coeducational day school for students age three through grade 12, located in suburban New Jersey. Each of the three school divisions provides a rigorous, meaningful and age-appropriate curriculum, and all students benefit from the environmental learning opportunities that exist on our 208-acre campus.