Personal Container Artists. (Children's Art Diary)

By Szekely, George | Arts & Activities, February 2002 | Go to article overview

Personal Container Artists. (Children's Art Diary)


Szekely, George, Arts & Activities


I call it the "Montessori frisk." It starts during the drive up the circular driveway, as I begin asking for all things that should remain in the car and not be taken to school. Out of my daughter's pockets come a stream of treasures--collections, toys, street finds, all of which seem to return each morning to refill children's most personal storage places. Going to school requires leaving behind the things with which children play and dream about the rest of the day.

Children have many secret places at home, in which they arrange and display their things. When children's objects are not welcome in school, then lunch boxes, pencil cases, and school bags become important canvases from home that children can decorate and set up inside. One needs private play and art spaces wherein. to explore and exercise creative control. In the art class, art teachers can admire, study and offer opportunities to include the important "pockets" in children's lives.

Most children start with a great interest in boxes and containers, claiming any unusual box that enters a home. Parents and teachers lovingly plan and furnish children's rooms even before they arrive. Parents often buy clothing for children, but leave the lunch box, pencil case and school bag for the child to select. Children soon remodel or refurbish these, inside and out. Children's art is an homage to a box, which they know to be the greatest sculptural invention since the wheel. Children's love of boxes and their unique ability to see possibilities in them are important resources for our creative studies of personal containers.

LUNCH BOXES Lunch duty may be dreaded words, yet the cafeteria is an instructive place for an art teacher. It is often the only place where children freely talk and act like children. In the cafeteria, one can view the best "off-Broadway" shows--starring fast-food figures, dancing apple cores, foil-dressed plastic utensils, all performing over lunch-box stages. Witness here the rich stashes inside lunch boxes, illuminating the latest in kids' collections.

Lunch boxes become display cases for cafeteria traders. They act as game boards for toys and as toy chests, because taking one's favorite toy-carrying case to school is not I allowed. Vintage toy-carrying cases, currently on display in our art room, are discussed as a form of great American art.

In our art class, we admire me lunch boxes kids bring to school, including the way they are packed and how their owners decorate the outsides. The art room is known to be a safe place to open a lunch box and reveal its secrets. Because of this, we are never short of unusual guest performers, objects to pose, dress or just show and tell a great story. Before lunch, handsomely wrapped sculptures can be found inside lunch boxes. After lunch, containers may be lighter, but no less interesting with the packing materials and leftover food shapes inside.

Having examined my collection of lunch boxes, everyone in our art class is proud of their first-hand knowledge of the art history of these containers. We start with turn-of-the-century tin cases and move through the different periods of metal and plastic character boxes to the many contemporary innovations in form and materials. Looking into the future and designing our own lunch boxes is always a fun part of the study.

Art-class lunch-box designers are inspired by many sources such as contemporary fast-food containers and materials, and by new trends in toy-carrying cases and designs in portable electronics. The Art Class Design Company's 21st Century Lunch Box Brochure incorporates the latest in lunch box materials and the most advanced gadgetry in each model.

PENCIL CASES I enjoy looking for old pencil cases on eBay. My fellow traders are not antique dealers, since the value of these cases is seldom measured in currency. Recently I received an old wood foldout case, wrapped in a letter from its 74-year-old seller. …

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