During the ‘Big Arts Week Wales’ several years ago I went into one of the local junior schools for several days of voluntary work. This was my first experience of working in a school and getting a large group of kids carving stone. I needn’t have worried as I was met by a very supportive and innovative head-teacher. I was introduced to whole school during assembly and then shown through to the classroom where I was to be working.
After an hour or so of looking at my work on the computer and a small exhibition I had brought to the school we had a look at all the tools I had brought in. Passing them around we talked about how they were used and what they could do.
At this point there were already several boys and girls who wanted to be a stone carver when they grew up. You can imagine their response when I told them they could all work on their own piece for the school grounds. Some of them started to wonder if there was a connection with the small standing stone that had appeared in the school garden over the weekend.
So next came the design process and to make it clear that this was very much a group activity, that is both the drawing and the decision making, they all worked together on two long sheets of paper.
After a couple of hours of drawing we made a great big circle out of all the work and spent some time going round looking at all the designs. It came quite naturally to them to look for what they wanted as group, rather than champion their own picture. Some ideas were too fiddly,others didn’t fit the theme they had chosen (this was very dragon and tree related, which was natural for a Welsh school named for the Oak).
With the end of the first day looming decisions were made and a frenzy of chalk ensued with the design continuing to evolve as they went. After the school was cleared I used an angle grinder to cut all the major lines and cross-hatch anywhere a lot of stone needed to be removed. It is this process that really makes the carving of stone accessible to any age and ability. The issue of accuracy is solved by the outline being cut and the cross-hatching means the bulk of stone to be removed is weakened and just needs bashing.
Of course with a bit of practice and a lot concentration they improved very rapidly. By day three they were tackling tricky bits themselves, instead of getting me to do them, and doing them well. It was a delight to watch them all improve and get so much out of it.
The inclusive nature of the school meant that the children with special needs were equally able to enjoy the activity and all the children benefited from the challenge. When you break the whole process down it becomes quite complex, you have to hit one end of the chisel with hammer whilst the end is on the right spot with consideration of angle and direction to take into account whilst keeping to artistic aim in mind. Whilst concentrating on all this you have to remain aware of your neighbours head (and hammer). Of course it was my job to make sure that everyone has got enough space and experimentation was kept sensible. Well I’m pleased to report that there were no injuries, there was a surprise or two though
Of course if you make a portal stone to Dragon World you shouldn’t be surprised when dragons start laying eggs in the school garden.
The next was for me, although you also shouldn’t be surprised when kids come up with innovative new ideas without trying
Can we colour it in now?
I had to come up with a new technique pretty quick but the result was one we can all be proud of. Chatting with the head-teacher afterwards she said that kids had had an experience they would remember for the rest of their lives and we had created a school legend. She only wished she’d had a camera to capture the look of wonder on the face of the girl who interrupted her class to show her the dragon’s egg they’d just found in the garden.