“Animals A-Z,” paintings by students of Lani Carney, Gnomon Press/Lani Carney, 2010, 49 pp. $50.
Two years of artwork by children ages three to eight at Featherstone Center for the Arts have produced a special new book, “Animals A-Z.” Its special-ness comes not just from the vivid color reproductions of animals arranged in rough alphabetic order on 11- by 16-inch card stock. It also reflects the methods used by art teacher Lani Carney, of Vineyard Haven, in her summer classes at Featherstone.
Ms. Carney has clearly brought an acute sensitivity to the beauty of the natural world and a concern for the environment to her work in the classroom. Her students’ paintings, all done in acrylic and water-based inks with what also looks like pencil, exhibit a freedom and boldness that suggests they come from such a context.
“Animals A-Z” lets the work of the 15 young artists speak for themselves without comment or even identification and age of the artist. The exception comes in a brief final page of text and credits by Ms. Carney.
Ms. Carney writes there, “As nature lovers and young artists, we notice things small and significant at the grass-roots level with understanding, knowledge and love. We believe we all can make a difference…and stop the abuse of our natural world. We must.…”
The artists bring to bear a variety of styles and approaches. A green-shelled blue crab with carefully articulated cervical grooves on its carapace dances across a background of pink and yellow sand, its 10 blue and purple legs stretching across the page. Red ants march up and down a fence-like line of grass, while a coal-eyed pink bear sticks its black nose through a row of foliage.
No need to stick to one creature per letter of the alphabet. The B’s are inhabited by a bear and a butterfly, as well as the blue crab. P includes a beautiful panda as well as two sets of penguins.
Nor do these youngsters feel the need to confine their depictions to real animals. A red dragon outlined in black stares from its page through round eyes and nostrils. A portrait of the ocean does fine for “O.” Half the fun of looking at the scary, flaming “Vakari” is guessing that the artist may mean to convey the valkyrie of Norse mythology.
One nascent abstract expressionist uses a broad sweep of red paint to capture the wingspan of an eagle. Another captures the aquatic essence of a turtle in blurry fields of green and orange watercolor.
In “Animals A-Z,” children’s logic rules the alphabet, offering the reader a sled dog under “S” and two “narwals” (properly spelled narwhal). A handsomely horned ox suffices nicely for the letter “X.”
Some categories of creatures are popular enough for multiple representations. They include whales, penguins, and dogs. No cats, alas, except for the big ones such as cheetahs and lions.
Poetic license applies in “Animals A-Z.” The artist who created a giraffe chooses to use stilt-like legs and a not particularly long neck to achieve that animal’s height. Except for its head, a snake that is color-braided in green, gray and yellow could easily make an interesting belt.
Ms. Carney avoids shows and hanging art on walls with her students. She says no ranking is necessary: “It’s about their self-expression.” She believes our technologically oriented world can be stultifying and doesn’t allow erasers in the belief that mistakes should be left. She uses Native American chants in the classroom and encourages her students to appreciate the cattle and chicken in residence at Featherstone.
“You don’t ‘see’ animals more,” she says. “It’s more about listening to them with your heart.” The heartfelt visions of these young artists suggests she knows what’s she’s talking about.