How do you get elementary-age kids to think about grown-up concerns like tolerance, peace or the environment? Anne Francey thinks art is the key.
Francey, a painter and ceramic tile artist living in Saratoga Springs, visits local schools and helps the young students complete art projects that focus on themes. Each student draws a picture or paints on a tile an individual image and Francey uses her creative eye to meld them all together in a huge, collective mural.
I look for what they have in common and create patterns, said Francey, who said she usually shows the students a sample picture so they understand what their project will look like at the end. `It’s important they understand what we are trying to express with this type of work, encourage them to be very creative and create unique pictures that will turn into a large mural to show what we are; unique creatures and individuals but as a society, we try to find what we have in common.`
Francey said the kids do most of the work, tasked with the challenge of expressing their feelings on something abstract like diversity, respect, caring, tolerance, peace or the environment.
`It’s my job to take the tiny little pictures they create and put them [together]. If you look at the finished product very close you’ll see individual pictures, but from a distance see overall patterns,` said Francey.
Francey visited a Saratoga Springs elementary school Tuesday, Jan. 18, for a project that lasted through Friday. She said no matter how young her amateur artists are, the pictures they produce can be breathtakingly beautiful and striking.
`The images I notice that are most moving are the ones that either express concern about the environment, like ‘we hope that all the animals and trees will be safe and keep the world as it is,’ and others that are about tolerance and peace, with people holding hands; I find them beautiful, people from different races,` said Francey. `Sometimes they’re just little masterpieces. They’re artistically very beautiful.`
Sometimes, Francey takes the fun character education lesson a little further and has the students write a poem and create a picture. She said it’s not uncommon for ceramic murals to end up half written tiles and half pictures, which makes them all the more powerful.
Francey got the idea expose local children to her own passion after discovering ceramic tiles herself. Also an art professor, she had worked predominantly in drawing and painting during her professional art career.
Fairly recently, though, the Switzerland native decided to branch out and try something new by working with tiles. Her inspiration came from one of her frequent visits to Tunisia, her husband’s birthplace.
`I was very inspired by the tiles that I saw everywhere in Tunisia. They have traditional houses with an inside courtyard covered with tiles and the designs really appealed to me because they’re very line oriented. The way the design is conceived is you have smaller elements that if you add a few more tiles, becomes something bigger. It was really fascinating,` said Francey.
Francey was also intrigued by the role fire played in the tile-making process, something she said took her a few tries to master.
`It was very difficult at the beginning because as an artist one is used to the paint and seeing what’s there and then changing it according to needs, but when you work with glazes there’s no way to know. It doesn’t look the same as it will be once it’s fired so you need a lot of experience to know what it might look like and I had to change my way of thinking,` said Francey.
She said she doesn’t stick to one theme or subject when creating her own art. Instead, she bounces from one thing to the next. She went through a flowers phase because of how they could be abstract and even look like `little dancers,` and most recently has experimented with insects that can look like calligraphy.
Francey said she likes going into the schools because it’s rewarding to see the kids’ enthusiasm and eagerness to learn.
`They have no trouble getting involved and what happens often is they’ll have an unveiling ceremony at the school, which is nice to see kids showing their parents ‘their picture.’ They’re very proud of what they’ve done,` said Francey.
She said she hopes they’re proud not only of their artistic skill, but of the message that art has conveyed.
`I hope they’re also aware of how their own pictures fits into the overall big mural,` said Francey.
Her next goal is to create a community mural that would reflect the community and involve its residents.
`This spring at the library in Burnt Hills I’ll have workshops where people can come create tiles and it will make a large table,` said Francey. `I’d like to do something with the historical society, that would be interesting to do something using pictures and photographs of the town.`
Francey’s own work can be viewed on her website, www.annefrancey.com. She shows her work in galleries and exhibitions.