BALTIC, Gateshead; image courtesy David Bolton
On 26 November 2019, BALTIC Centre for Contemporary Art held a special event to celebrate Jane Lee McCracken's Where Did All the Animals Go? project, artists in schools and educators, organised by Vicky Sturrs BALTIC Head of Learning and Civic Engagement, Amanda McMahon of BALTIC Learning, Artist Teacher, Royal Grammar School, Newcastle and project Co-partner, Christine Egan-Fowler and Jane. Following the success of the celebration event documented below, the group Murmurations, led by Amanda, Christine and Jane, was founded for educators to explore art at BALTIC.
Attending the event were project co-partners Linda Peacock, Sara Punshon, St Mary Magdalen Primary School Seaham; Sandi Letton, Bexhill Academy, Sunderland; Katie Lawrenson, Mortimer Primary School, South Shields; Samantha McCulloch, RGS and David Bolton, Born Free Education Officer as well as teachers working on Artsmark projects with BALTIC and ceramic Artist, Megan Randall.
An evening where personal stories of involvement in art projects were told and the importance of artists working in schools was discussed and celebrated, there was also the opportunity to get creative.
Vicky Sturrs (left) and Christine Egan-Fowler (right) opening BALTIC Celebration Evening
After an introduction from Vicky, Christine delivered an impassioned talk about the importance of art in schools for both children and teachers as well as the benefits of artists working in schools. Many of her concerns and celebratory points were echoed by teachers in their talks during the evening. Christine's determination to see art grow and thrive in the region's schools and for children to become cultural brokers is illuminating.
Throughout the evening, a showreel featured drawings by every child who participated in Where Did All the Animals Go? exhibition, as well as Jane's drawings.
Artists and educators thoroughly enjoyed Christine's painting activity which she had previously devised for a group of GPs she worked with - using tubes of paint to make dots on watercolour paper, then taking a paintbrush to join the dots which created abstract forms and beautiful colours. Ceramic Artist Megan Randall's activity involved creating a face by cutting out old decals she had collected from manufacturers such as Spode, and hand-decorating ceramic mugs with the decals. Both activities produced exciting results.
Painting by Christine Egan-Fowler
As the artist at the hub of an art in schools project, Jane explained the context of her project and the journey her art and life had taken which led her to found Drawing for Endangered Species Workshops and WDATAG:
Art defines who I am. If I can’t make art, I’m not me. My art is a product of a 70’s childhood, a decade very much still overshadowed by the fallout of WWII, and three early obsessions - TV and film (all those moving images mesmerized me), war, and animals. An aversion to unfairness, which I learned quickly is part of life and inescapable, and also the fact that life is brimming with beauty, became entwined with these obsessions!
As a child I was never without a pen in my hand, never not drawing and never without a thought about animals. I have watched war and wildlife documentaries for as long as I can remember, and abhorrence of the suffering endured by humanity, animals and the natural world, caused by man-made destruction, increased to an unbearable volume within me. The realisation that each of us, human or animal is an individual with our own lives and stories, became and is paramount to the way I view the world.
Every piece of art I create is a memorial to individual lives lived and ways of life lost often through war or environmental destruction.
Each artwork involves weeks of research as well as my working method of photographing films as they play on TV which creates inspirational images to work from with the aim of bringing a cinematic quality to my art. This regime helps me create the symbolic layers of drawings within each artwork, the complexities of which determine that my drawings can often take months to complete, with approximately one square inch of mark-making achieved per day. Creating my artworks also transports my mind so I live the drawing like a film until it’s finished.
In 2013 I made a series of work In Homage to the Last Great Carnivores of Eurasia, highlighting the plight of vulnerable Eurasian species. I couldn’t have made the work without images of the featured animals and coupled with my eight-year old self’s promise to my adult self, when I learned in 1976 that the Caspian tiger had been declared extinct, I began a quest in tandem with my artistic vocation, to give back to wildlife.
Most children love animals and love drawing and I realised that delivering workshops in schools would not only give children the opportunity to become environmental brokers but also art ambassadors. A gift of art and wildlife! So, I set up Drawing for Endangered Species Workshops in 2014, in partnership with Born Free. The workshops share my passions for drawing and wildlife and give both adults and children the opportunity to learn about and draw vulnerable species. During each workshop, I encourage people to form an emotional connection with their subject which is one of the keys to conservation, and also to express themselves through their own unique drawing styles.
It’s always a great source of joy watching children relish learning about and creating incredibly sensitive and honest drawings of animals.
However, there are also a couple of other aspects to my workshops and this project that are of great personal importance. Firstly, bringing art to schools. Art in schools is becoming endangered. Art is vital to humanity; it defines who we are as a species. Beyond the vast economic value of our creative industries, we need art for our souls.
Secondly, drawing is not only an opportunity to express our creativity, it is also a tool for well-being. Society is growing increasingly aware of mental health issues. Drawing can transport your mind; it is a source of respite and can also help grow self-esteem. I have never forgotten what it is to be a child, not only experiencing wonderment at our amazing world but also how frightening a place it can often seem and be. Many of the children I work with have challenging personal lives or developmental disabilities. To see those children blossom when they are creating a drawing is deeply moving and a priceless privilege. Drawing is vital to all children’s needs and development and through art, children can be themselves. It is my belief that, creativity is integral to a healthier mind and society.
Teachers and educators involved in both WDATAG and Artsmark projects were invited to talk about the art their children had produced working with project artists, and the difference it had made to them both in school and personally.
Sandi Letton spoke of Charlie who she discovered during Jane's workshop, is colour blind but yet produced an outstanding drawing of a blue-throated macaw with the help of his friend Chloe who patiently selected the correct colour pens for Charlie to use while she created an extraordinary drawing of a polar bear.
Sara Punshon of St Mary Magdalen RCVA Primary School, Seaham talked about how every single child had thanked her for helping them become involved in WDATG project and how much they loved drawing animals.
Katie Lawrenson of Mortimer Primary School, attending the evening with Head Teacher Gill Cunningham explained that she had gathered her participating children a week prior to the BALTIC event, to discuss their thoughts on the project and couldn't believe how fresh the memories of Jane's workshop were. She read out the following quotes from Year 4 children:
Eashan “I really liked drawing the animals, it was fun.”
Ellen “I liked how we could start again if we made mistakes and do it lots of times.”
Sophie “I enjoyed finding out about how many endangered animals there are and drawing them.”
Harry “I enjoyed knowing that we are helping endangered animals by drawing them.”
Amber “I liked meeting Jane and learning about the endangered animals.”
Elana “Just to know I was one of the people who was chosen to draw the animals and to know I could be saving their lives made me feel really happy.”
Sam “there was no specific way to draw it, your way was the right way.”
Jodie “I really liked working with Jane as she was really encouraging and I was happy when I found out someone wanted to buy the picture of my whale.” (which was a present for the ladies husband.)
Samantha McCulloch and Christine both of RGS spoke about what their children had gained from being part of the project. Samantha said:
It is truly magical to see the children working with Jane. She gives them clear direction and inspires every child that they can achieve. Their Biro work has been truly magnificent and I know the children are incredibly proud of their pieces.
It was magnificent to take the pupils to Thought Foundation and see their faces light up when they saw their work displayed in the gallery space. I feel this should be done regularly across the city as the sense of pride and confidence in children gained from the experience was incredible.
Biro was not something pupils properly explored until working with Jane, since then I have brought Biro art into the curriculum in other year groups and it's fascinating to see how differently children work with a Biro. They work with newfound confidence which is almost the reverse of what you would expect and learning how to turn their mistakes into miracles has, in turn, made them more confident at drawing. We are delighted to be working with everyone on the project'.
David Bolton, Born Free Education Officer with Jane
David Bolton who previously worked at Geography teacher for eleven years before becoming an Education Officer at Born Free, talked about his teaching experiences as well as his recent trip to Ethiopia working with Ethiopian educators and children. He explained that Born Free is dedicated to WDATAG project, realising it to be a simple but effective way of engaging children with wildlife and that Born Free understood that art was at the beating heart of the project and not just a subsidiary activity. David's goal is to help children love animals which he feels is being achieved through the project, as each child studies nuances of individual animals and expresses these in their drawings.
Wild Biro Drawing Packs
The evening also saw the launch of Jane's Wild Postcard Gallery, in conjunction with Where Did All the Animals Go? project, where she distributed Wild Biro Drawing Packs containing Biros and blank postcards.
"The pack is a gift to get creative with a Biro by drawing your favourite wild animals and also in our hectic 21st century lives, a gift of some often much-needed ‘you-time’."
She asked attendees to keep one of the Biros, create a Biro drawing of their favourite wild animals on a blank postcard and pass the pack to a special person in their life to repeat the process, so that Wild Postcard Gallery would evolve from the BALTIC celebration evening and the gift of drawing and wildlife would reach more people.
Vicky and Christine ended the evening by announcing that they were looking forward to building an ongoing relationship with attendees and BALTIC.
David Bolton, Christine Egan-Fowler and Jane Lee McCracken, Millenium Bridge, Gateshead; image courtesy Robert Lee