News from the driveway

The long title of this post is: Great news from Macaire’s worldly driveway. Indeed Macaire Everett and her muse brother Camden make the news again this Spring 2021, by publishing an amazing book, filled with more than 120 full page photos of chalk drawings by Macaire.

The book The world from our driveway (on Amazon) depicts the journey of two siblings facing the imperative remote learning, imposed by the pandemic. With its behind the scene section, the book shows how what started as a home remedy against boredom, turned into a family and community effort for promoting resilience and bringing smiles and joy around the world.

Macaire had largely shared her work digitally on social media. One of our earlier posts last Summer linked to her busy Instagram. It is such a relief that Macaire’s work, though ephemeral by design, can be preserved on paper. Maybe the driveway itself will some day receive a heritage site designation from UNESCO. And we are only half kidding, because we heard that museums around the world are racing to document life during this pandemic.

The compositions are so inspired and engaging, that picking a favorite is mission impossible. With Mothers’ Day coming up, see Macaire’s touching birthday drawing to her mother. It will melt your heart. For us at the Collection, if we had to pick one, it would the one titled We are all in this together. Not only is it a propos because of the pandemic, it is also one for which Macaire digged into her own personal archives, and in which she staged herself with her muse. In this image more than in all the other ones, personal and universal appeals come together and come full circle.

The world from our driveway, back cover. By Macaire Everett. Source: Amazon.ca, 4 May 2021.

Camera-ready

Drawings are known to be at the heart of our Collection. However, it is not limited to them and our blog has also touched upon other formats in the past. For instance, see our recent entries about collages and writings, such as notebooks and diaries. One format that we had yet to touch upon is photography by children.

Normal, we may say, because if access to paper and crayons is not universal, access to cameras by children is more than marginal, to say the least. Certainly, allowing children to handle expensive, fragile equipment comes with a stress most parents do not want to endure. Still, there are ways to do it and choosing the right time to make a child responsible for a camera, is the first step. Giving a purpose and an end goal, is also I way to engage the child. Take for example, combining the photographic activity with a drawing class, or a holiday documentary project. Even more engaging is making sure that parents and the rest of the family take part in the project and that the images are shared and discussed with family members. Taking photos can be a short easy-come easy-go activity that bores just as quickly. For the child to maintain and develop an interest in it, a broader purpose should be understood and shared. It can be a great path to deeper visual literacy for the child and improve observation skills, critical thinking and drawing abilities.

A nonprofit organization took it even further, by setting the stage for photography by children as a team effort, community-based program for personal growth, and a channel for social change. Meet 100 Cameras. Based in New York City, it operates globally to provide young people with cameras, so they can tell their own stories visually. Images are then sold online to fund local community-driven initiatives. Programs for educators are also available. We do not know yet whether the photographer gets to keep the original digital file, nor if an image only gets printed after a purchase is made, or if the photographers get their own prints. If you find out, make sure to let us know.

Photography Symbol for Wikipedia 20,  by Jasmina El Bouamraoui and Karabo Poppy Moletsane. Source: Wikimedia.org, 28 April 2021.

Emotional geographic

The connection between children’s drawings and education, art education or developmental psychology may appear to be a given. At the Collection, we like to argue that tighter connections to anthropology, history and ethnography would benefit the advancement of knowledge.

The interest in children’s drawings occasionally emerge from unexpected places. Alina Gabriela Tamas, who teaches in a kindergarten, made a surprising and stimulating connection between children’s drawings and the study of geography. Published in the Romanian Review of Geographical Education (Vol. III no. Feb. 2014), her article presents an analysis of 42 drawings of trees, by 21 pre-school children aged 4 to 7. It is concise and illustrated with all the related reproductions. Who would have thought that we should throw geography in the mix too?

Hello Tree, by Sahana, 2020. Source: CDIC-CIDE, 2021.

Paper cut

In a large urban setting on Earth, 2060. Sophia, 10, is watching her grand father clean up and sort things from a dusty closet. “Papi, what’s this?” she asks. “This my dear, is a crayon” he answers absentminded. She continues, “And that?” He realizes that he must pay attention. “Oh that is a sheet of paper with a drawing” and he sees that she waits to know more, but he is not sure if he could find a blank sheet of paper so that he could demonstrate further.

Is it too far-fetched to muse that in 30 years from now, we could find a ten year old child who will have never seen a pen and paper combo ? It is not hard to imagine if you consider the increasingly paperless world many of us live in, be it at work or at home. Computers and mobile devices proliferate and allow us to produce, authenticate, share and store documents without any paper or ink. Even office and home printer sales are decreasing steadily. We now make each single printing device print less than before. That is if we bother to own one at all.

Is there still “trash paper” in the homes, on which children can draw? Do blank sheets of paper now only come from the school? In their play, children often mimic what they see adults do. If grown ups at home or at school no longer use pencils and paper, what will inspire kids to do so?

In 2015, the Washington Post published an article by Michal S. Rosenwald. It describes how the paper industry was developing a campaign and public relations in order to keep the “brand” paper relevant against the odds, and to protect production levels or at least slow down its decline. The article explains how harmful digital culture has been to this product, and how the industry intends to fight back, namely by incrasing paper visibility online, of all places. Now a few years, plus a year of pandemic down the road, and the decline of print and writing paper accelerates. At least that’s what we see in industry reports such as one at Fisher International. As for office and home printers, all bets are off. In the past year, journalist Roberto Torres wondered in CIO Dive Will the pandemic spell the end of the printer? Shortly before that “predictionists” Duncan Stewart and Nobuo Okubo foresaw a rosy future for home printers in the new work from home era: Printer Charming: COVID-19 TMT Predictions. As our relation to the pen and paper combo changes, so it does for children. Print “single sided” and let them draw, for art Sophia sake.

All hail the stickman figure!

Quite frankly, it deserves its own world class museum. The stick man figure has been among us for probably thousands of years. This enduring symbol of both human simplicity and our communication skills is still ubiquitous today, in signage and publicity around the world.

Lately, its name was passed onto the heroic character of a popular children’s book by Julia Donaldson and Axel Scheffler. The book’s success propelled animated films and even a musical (Freckle Productions). The stick man figure has never been ignored, but it is about time we celebrate its rightful place in History.

Seriously, isn’t the stick man figure the living proof that regression, mindful or unconscious, is not only a great defense mechanism readily available to all, but also part of our daily cognitive hygiene? That the stick man figure is and has always been part of children as well as adults’ lives is definitely good food for thoughts.

How to draw a stick figure, screen shot. Source: Wikihow.com, 26 January 2021.

All ears

Anytime is a good time to celebrate music and drawing all at once. Let’s be thankful for music. It helps us going through the global pandemic and so many other dire experiences, or beautiful ones just the same. Put on your favorite or a completely unexplored playlist and draw lightheartedly while letting yourself transported by the sound of music.

For educators and homeschoolers, here are two nicely put together activity descriptions to explore with kids. The first one, Drawing to music, is from a quite interesting project called TeachRock, by the no less fascinating Rock and Roll Forever Foundation. Make sure to go read who the founders are on their web site. Like most of us, many visual artists are inspired by music. It is quite fitting that they suggest Kandinsky’s bursting Composition VII for this activity.

The second one, Musical Art, was shared on KinderArt by Geoff Simpson, a teacher from the Greater Toronto Area, where our Collection is based. Go on and revisit Piet Mondrian and Serge Tousignant’s works, only two of the many great painters who could not do without their musical inspiration.

Composition VII, 1913, by Kandinsky. Source: TeachRock.org, 10 November 2020.

A Lebanese nightmare

Only people who have suffered unspeakable traumas can fathom what citizens of Beyrouth are experiencing since last month’s explosion at the heart of their city. Author and mother of two, Yasmina Farah Massoud shared her thoughts about the horrendous time she, her family and her people find themselves in. See her August 11th Facebook post and her son josef’s rendering of the aftermath of the explosion (in French).

Puis il y a les enfants de Beyrouth au mois d’Août, by Yasmina Farah Massoud. Drawing by Yasmina’s son Josef. Source: Yasmina’s Facebook page, 26 September2020.

Toy touts

Here are some simple fun things for kids to do with their parents and or siblings. Ask a child to draw a favorite toy twice. Once by memory and then with the object in sight. Take a picture of the toy. Use the three images and the toy itself to trigger a conversation about handmade versus mechanical and industrial goods. Plan a visit to a local craft fair along with your next shopping trip.

Another activity provides a precious life experience. With the child, identify a toy that was stored away, is still in good conditions and had not been used for some time. Discuss the possibility of disposing of it and make a plan together. The first step should be to draw the toy and keep the drawing as a souvenir. List the pros and cons of two alternatives: 1) Donate the toy and learn about philanthropy and the feelings of loss and empathy; 2) Sell the toy and learn about commerce, publicity, savings and talk about values.

Celebrate the benefits toys bring to us all, by discovering artists who do that so well. Our four favorites are Derrick Hickman, Jimmy Lucero, Josh Talbott and John Padlo. Did you know that Andy Warhol made a series of toy paintings? Some are currently on display at the Gmurzinska Gallery in Zürich. Many more artists are celebrating toys. See the works by Kelley Bochman Smith, Joyce K. Jensen, Margaret Morrison and Linda Apple.

Child with a teetotum, by Jean-Siméon Chardin. Musée du Louvre / A. Dequier, M. Bard. Source: Louvre.fr, 29 August 2020.

Toy museums: What’s at play?

Much could be said about toy museums, as a contemporary phenomenon. Their very existence sparks reflection about nostalgia, fast changing societies and consumerism. Without dwelling on those issues, we note the diversity of toy museums and how they might evolve in the future.

We find toy museums on every continents. See a list, along with links, in this Wikipedia article. As summer holidays come to a close and lockdowns are being lifted, visiting one makes for a fun family excursion. Many of them are small and grew out of personal collections. Probably by grownups who could not bare to see these cute objects collecting dust, in the attic or at the local antique fair. See the one in Hamilton (CA), or the charming one in Helsinki (FI).

Others have impressive collections, be it by their size, historical or specialized content. The Farm Toy Museum (Dyersville, IA), the Shankar’s International Doll Museum (New Dehli, IN) and the Ore Mountain Toy Museum (Seiffen, GE) are three examples. A few have full-time curators and collect not only rare items, but tourism awards too. Interestingly, the state of Missouri has two, both founded in 1982. Spain also has more than one such museums.

We found two institutions of special interest, each for a couple of reasons. First, they do not call themselves toy museums. The Strong National Museum of Play (Buffalo, NY) is one of the largest in the world. Its pinball online collection caught our attention. The Museum of Childhood (Edindurgh, UK) is another one. Its collection includes books of children literature, published before 1850, and they are presented in the informative blog.

Parallel to toy museums, the so called children’s museums have also proliferated in recent years. They are usually more playrooms than museums, even when located in fine art or history museums. The museums in Buffalo and Edinburgh bring these two concepts together most effectively and their names appropriately reflect it. In their facilities, nostalgia and popular brands co-exist hand in hand with the ever relevant crayons, paper, glue stick, and scissors. Toys are about play, play is about learning. Toys are for kids, toys are for the family. Toy s are about experiencing childhood in play. That is what this type of museum is about. It goes far beyond the toy itself

Logos, Toy Museum of Helsinki, FI and Tartu Toy Museum, EE. Sources: lelumuseo.fi ; mm.ee, 23 August 2020.

Chalk it up

We’ve all seen chalk drawings on the sidewalk during the recent confinement. One young artist and her younger brother muse took it to an unparalleled level. What fourteen year old Macaire has achieved is just so impressive, full of magic and love. Please someone give those two an award, a scholarship, a thumbs up. As far as we are concerned, they have already made pandemic history. These ephemeral and monumental images cannot be preserved in their original state. Luckily, we have social media. Visit @macairesmuse on Instagram. Let us know what you think.

Detail of Macaire’s Muse Instagram page. Source: Instagram, 15 August 2020.