The Mariposa Museum was bustling with activity Friday afternoon. Children surrounded a table littered with scissors, beads, yarn, and other art equipment, focused on making magic wands from the available objects. In the back room, siblings Soumaya and Sidney Lima drew in sketchbooks, while the “Arthur” episode “George Scraps His Sculpture” played on a nearby laptop connected to a TV monitor.
Assemblage artist Kevin Sampson coached the children with their artwork in a mostly laissez faire manner, allowing their imaginations’ liberty to take the wheel. Sampson was also the guest star in the “Arthur” episode they were watching. Also at the museum to cheer on the children was Marc Brown, creator of the “Arthur” books and TV series.
Karla Hostetler, director of the Mariposa Museum, said this event was a part of an art contest the museum had been planning with Sampson called “Make Something Beautiful,” a call for photographs of found object assemblage artworks from people of all ages and skill levels that will be displayed in an online exhibit later in August. After Sampson exhibited his artwork at the museum last summer, including an installation at Union Chapel in Oak Bluffs, the museum stayed in touch to work on more artistic collaborations. This led to the contest. While planning and advertising the contest, the “Arthur” episode Sampson guest-starred in aired in March. In the episode, an anthropomorphic moose named George makes a found object art project that someone mistakes for trash and takes to the dump. George meets the animated Sampson, who teaches him to find meaning in the ordinary and supposedly useless, which allows the young moose to make a found object art piece that is meaningful to him.
“It was one of the greatest honors of my life,” said Sampson. The best part for him is that even decades from now, his granddaughter will have him forever, since the cartoon Sampson looks so much like him, and she can hear his voice.
This led Hostetler to contact WGBH senior executive producer Carol Greenwald to use the episode as a source of inspiration for a bigger exhibit. “The values of the ‘Arthur’ series are very much in line with the Mariposa’s values. It’s a show about inclusion and diversity,” said Hostetler.
Brown was very impressed with Sampson’s message to kids in the “Arthur” episode: Art is everywhere. “He really invites them to look at ordinary objects that they see around them, in their home and every day, and think about how to transform those in imaginative ways to art,” said Brown.
The 25th season of “Arthur” will also be the final one for the show. There has been misinformation about the show being canceled by PBS Kids. “‘Arthur’ is now the longest-running animated children’s show in history. We made a conscious decision a few years ago to stop production in year 25, which would be next year,” said Brown. “I feel like we have pretty much accomplished our goals and what we set out to do. Really talking about things that are not usually subject matter for kids’ cartoons, like asthma, dealing with a parent who might have Alzheimer’s or cancer, and try to be helpful with kids.”
There will be no more new “Arthur” episodes, but specials and public safety announcements using the characters will be made. Brown is now planning a new show called “Hop,” aimed toward preschoolers, on HBO Cartoonito. Brown spends half of his time in Vineyard Haven, and the other at his home in New York City.
“Arthur” is a show that has entertained and taught children for many years, and inspired the workshop with Sampson. Hostetler said wands were chosen to be worked on since “sometimes, we want to feel more powerful than we actually do.”
These empowering wands certainly grabbed the attention of the children making them. Curly sticks, reeds, and willow were available to be decorated. One wand was wrapped in brown, black, and white strings with leaves attached. Others had more unorthodox magic wands. One of the participants, Isaac Vanderhoop, covered a curvy vanilla-colored stick with white strings and a spider on top.
Sampson said working with the children was very enjoyable: “That’s what it’s all about. I have a 7-year-old granddaughter, Nora … my granddaughter was 2 months old, and my daughter says, ‘Here, Dad,’ and I watched her until she was 6 years old every day. Sitting with her taught me a whole lot about how to access kids’ imaginations and keep them busy.”
Sampson often plays with his granddaughter with magic as the theme, whether they “throw the wind” or “call down the birds,” which helped in tapping into the participants’ imaginations for the workshop.
Sampson has led these types of workshops all over the country, from the South to the West Coast, and has taught for 30 years now.
The children had a twinkle in their eyes, both from the wands and having Brown at the event. During mid-interview, Brown was approached by Soumaya who asked if he could autograph her sketchbook. He obliged with a smiling Arthur to go along with his signature, which brought to Soumaya her own smile under her mask.
“Every year we’ve added another layer to the idea that this is a community space where people can, through their creativity, communicate with each other,” said Hostetler. “To see that happening means a lot to all of us here.”
The Mariposa Museum is open 11 am to 6 pm, Monday through Saturday, and closes at 5 pm on Sundays. For more information about the “Make Something Beautiful” contest, visit the museum’s website, mariposamuseum.org, or email them at firstname.lastname@example.org. The best piece in the adult category will be awarded a cash prize of $1,000.