YOGART STUDIO :: Changing into Thunderbird
Imagine a bird so gigantic, powerful and strong that the beating of its wings renders thunder in the sky and lightening to strike from its eyes. The thunderbird has always played a significant role in North American Aboriginal beliefs and culture and it’s easy to see why. This intelligent, formidable and supernatural creature evokes feelings of awe that transcend our daily experiences towards a direction of inspiration and creativity. It was at YOGART STUDIO’s summer home at the Art Gallery of Ontario that I was able to channel this feeling of transformation and excitement into a 2 hour yoga + art class for children 4 to 9 years of age. As children and their parents/caregivers gathered for their respective YOGART class, the energy in the gallery buzzed with excitement. “We’re doing yoga in the galleries?! That’s so cool!” -was often exclaimed by both kids and adults alike. After warm greetings and introductions and reading one of my favourite children’s picture books (Not A Stick by Antoinette Portis) to warm up our imaginations, it was time to warm up our bodies. Yoga mats in hand, we made our way up to the second floor of the AGO, through the towering, sunlit Galleria Italia, into the Henry Moore Sculpture Centre. Sleeping giants made of plaster surrounded us as we unrolled our bright pink, orange, turquoise and lime green coloured yoga mats and settled for our practice. I told the kids we were about to embark on an animal adventure. We practiced our “yogi breath” and began our journey. We travelled through the rainforest and slithered our bodies into cobra poses hissing as we arched our backs towards the tall treetops. We awkwardly raced along white sandy beaches in crab pose and ended the fun at the farm where we alternated mooing and meowing between cow and cat pose. The yoga class included several additional poses and some quiet-rest time to calm our bodies, hearts and minds.
After 20 minutes of gentle and fun yoga and several minutes of relaxation, the children where ready to apply their kinaesthetic learning onto paper. As Moore’s sculptures continued to loom over us, I asked the children to sketch the animal they most identified with -maybe it was their favourite, maybe it was the animal that made them feel the strongest. We then packed up our pencils, sketchbooks and yoga mats to hunt for inspiration.
I lead the children to Norval Morrisseau’s (1997) six panel series titled: Man Changing into Thunderbird. I let the kids know that just by talking about what they saw in front of them: the details in the painting, the colours, shapes, etc. that they could decipher the story and message of the paintings. I turned the discussion over to them and they “read” the story of Morrisseau’s transformation back to me. We discussed why a person would want to change into an animal, why the artist may have chosen such bright colours for his painting and what animal we would each choose to change into if given the opportunity. We summarized all the new ideas we had just discussed by curling our bodies into a little ball on the ground and on my count of three, slowly growing and transforming into our favourite animal. We headed back down to the studio excited to create our own art!
I designed an art activity that allowed the children to creatively express personal insights as to how they saw themselves in relation to Morrisseau’s work. We began by choosing one background colour. Each child was given 4 panels of Masonite board. After painting the first panel, white paint was gradually added onto their paint palette to create a tint of their original chosen colour. A second panel was painted and the process repeated until all 4 panels were painted and a “darkest to lightest” gradient was evident. The intent of this painting process was to provide children with a technical application of painting and to also indicate a sequence of order for their series of panels.
While the panels were placed to the side to dry, children began the next step by examining their faces in a mirror and “tracing” their self-portrait directly onto the mirror using window markers. Next, children were each given 4 sheets of paper. Each child recreated their self-portraits on the 1st sheet of paper and drew their favourite/chosen animal on the 4th sheet. The middle papers (sheets 2 and 3) were reserved to represent the transformation process. A half-person, half-animal creature was sketched. Each drawing was coloured in, cut out, and pasted onto the painted panels.
After a morning of shaping our bodies into various yoga poses, and relating our understanding of change, colour, and shape to one of Canada’s most influential artists, we successfully completed the transformation by visually representing our new found knowledge through art. Through YOGART, children tapped into a potent connection between their physical, emotional and creative development –worthy of thunderbird legend.
I would like to extend a very big thank you to the Art Gallery of Ontario for hosting YOGART STUDIO this summer. It was an honour to launch YOGART STUDIO classes for children and families in such an inspiring and beautiful environment. I am also very grateful to the “big kids” Simeon, Ilona and Sarah for taking the time to forward me these gorgeous photos. Thank you x 100!