17 September 2014

The Rat King

I spent last week working in Toronto at Oasis Skateboard Factory through the Ontario Arts Council's Artist in Education program. OSF is an amazing alternative school where students earn high school credits by creating their own brand and running a skateboard business / professional design studio. If such a magical place had existed when I was a teenager, I may have graduated high school, too!

I've worked with teachers Lauren Hortie and Craig Morrison before, and they are incredible artists in their own right. Lauren came up with the idea of using a "Rat King" as a theme for the video. Do you know what a rat king is? I didn't either... and if you have a rat phobia, you may want to skip reading this next part. Sometimes - and this is a true thing! - a bunch of rats can get their tails inseparably tangled together, forming in essence a creepy super-rat. Do a google image search if you dare!

Lauren introduces the Rat King theme
Our project for the week was to make a shadow puppetry promo video introducing the 2014 OSF crew. So naturally, each of the students started by making a rat with their name on it. Rats often have a negative association (like teenagers, perhaps...?) but they are also intelligent and highly resilient (teens are, too!). The work these students produced was really impressive.

The second item they had to create was a paper-cut portrait of themselves, and lastly, they were to create a puppet image to represent themselves.

We layered these images together using an overhead projector, creating a moving collage for each student. In addition, we interwove a weird little narrative featuring a character we called Gargantua.

Shooting the final scene with a couple of students
I think it turned out pretty great! I've definitely never done a shadow puppetry project with quite this tone before, but if you want to engage students you've got to match the project to their skills and interests, and I think we succeeded in doing that here. Check out the video below!

15 September 2014

A Sticky Story

This past Saturday I was at Sandbanks New Waves music festival, providing some children's programming. Between painting murals and helping make puppets, I took a quick break to go to the beach. You see, our annual Festival of the Stick was on Sunday, and I thought we could use a few more sticks. The beach is a great source for sun-bleached, bark-stripped sticks, and within a couple of minutes, I'd loaded up my arms with a bounty. I headed towards the parking lot, taking a shortcut along a narrow path through the sand dunes. I was almost there, when lo and behold, two policemen were walking straight towards me. I smiled as they approached; I knew they were looking for people doing less-than-legal things away from the main festival site. But I was not to get off so easily. "You're not supposed to take sticks from a provincial park" one of them said, "It's part of the ecosystem." Uh, whoops. "Do you want me to put them back?" I asked, still smiling. "No, you can just throw them in the bushes here." I did as I was told, but I held out the other treasure I'd found. "Am I allowed to keep this?" I asked.

My treasure
The cop admired my find, speculating that the jawbone was probably from a deer. "We'll pretend we didn't see you with that," he said, and we went in our separate directions. 

Thankfully, when Sunday rolled around we weren't faced with a stick shortage, because those who attended Stickfest were well aware of the cost of admission: one stick. Two by two and four by four, they pulled in to Small Pond, got out of their cars and climbed off their bikes, approaching the Museum of the Stick with sticks in hand.

Wood carving from Ghana depicting women making Fufu with... big sticks 
We had lots of new acquisitions to the Stick Museum this year, including many sticks in our International Collection. I wonder how many were acquired in less-than-legal means...

Young and old enjoyed perusing the museum, and enjoying the classic Stickfest activities of stick painting, and stick-snack eating. Dogs frolicked with sticks, kids ran back and forth to the silo, and people had the opportunity to try out stilt-walking.

It was a glorious day, filled with friends, laughter, and lots and lots of sticks. Our museum will be up for the next few weeks; if you'd like to check it out, just get in touch. We always welcome donations to our permanent collection if you've got a special stick that needs a home. Until next year, remember to stick with love...

- Martin Luther King Jr.