Hands-on at Featherstone

Sculpture, crafts, and painting are powerful outlets for the young imagination.

Choosing her colors carefully, this young artist works on a piece during art class. — Courtesy Featherstone

Featherstone Center for the Arts is hopping with all things creative for young children this winter.

Teachers Helen Hall and Coral Shockey offer classes for 3- to 5-year-olds, Monday through Thursday, as well as another for 5- to 8-year-olds on Thursday afternoons.

The classes originated when Hall and Shockey, who both teach Featherstone’s summer programs for children, felt that with COVID there was a need for additional classes and opportunities for preschoolers. A hidden benefit of the pandemic is that class sizes have been reduced, which has increased teachers’ one-on-one time with kids. “I feel like the cozier and smaller environment and class size creates bigger imagination and room for us to explore from a creative standpoint,” Shockey says. “I love teaching all children art, no matter what age. I think children’s ability to express themselves through art mediums is so important in their development and how they see the world around them.”

Hall refers to children ages 3 to 5 as “emerging artists.” She says, “What I love about teaching this age group is that they are all into the art experience I put before them. They are unfiltered and willing to take on the tasks, and it’s beautiful to witness. They love exploring new materials, the classroom space, and the campus with full abandon.”

During the three-hour workshops, teachers typically present a theme of the day and do different projects with various materials. The children get to use all different kinds of mediums ranging from pen and paper to watercolor, tempera, acrylic paints, collage, and sculpture. “We use a lot of recyclable materials — anything we can upcycle and repurpose,” Schockey says. The children get really creative with their sculptures and how to creatively use household items from toilet paper rolls to boxes and yogurt cups.”

The older children also use a wide range of media to explore functional design, aesthetics, and creative problem-solving using form, shape, and space as their guides. Shockey mentions that this is the first year they’ve opened the classes up to 5-year-olds. “It has been so beautiful to see the way the younger and older children help each other out. The younger ones bring their vibrance and innocence and carefree excitement, and the older children bring their experience and knowledge of the materials because they’ve been using them longer. It’s so nice to see how they really work beautifully together side by side.”

Hall, a fiber artist, has been teaching at Featherstone since 2019. She was a psychology and sociology major in college, and her career has been in human resources. But her parents were artists, and art has always been part of her life. 

Shockey started teaching at Featherstone 10 years ago: “I love it. I don’t see what I do as a job. It’s more so that we’re having fun and being creative together. It’s just so fulfilling, and when you see the children’s eyes light up and they’re so proud of themselves and what they’ve created, it’s pure magic.”

Shockey said she feels blessed to teach at Featherstone: “Everyone is just so happy to be there. The studios are set up in such a way that they are child-friendly and heighten creativity and inspiration. The artist quality of the materials we give them, it just creates a completely different art, and really makes a difference. The kids say, ‘You mean we get to use these, like a real artist?’”

Hall echoes her sentiment about Featherstone, and takes them to see the adults in the painting or ceramics class or to the gallery, believing that “the opportunity for kids to see things that adults are doing can be awesome.”

Ultimately, for Shockey, “It’s all about the children’s creativity, and I think with what’s going on in the world around us, it’s so important for them to have a safe environment where they have an outlet to express themselves freely. I leave there rejuvenated and full of creative spirit.”

For more information, visit bit.ly/Featherstone_class.