top of page

Love in Return

Updated: May 4

We began the week with a Mother Earth / Earth Mother themed ART YARD Advanced Studio on zoom inspired by Robin Wall Kimmerer’s book Braiding Sweetgrass: Indigenous Wisdom, Scientific Knowledge and the Teachings of Plants. After a short introduction ART YARD Artist Ajani Russell read the poignant first chapter from the book recounting the Sky Woman story, shared by the original peoples throughout the Great Lakes, asking us to allow our thoughts to wander with the words.

Ajani reads to us on zoom

“Knowing that you love the earth changes you, activates you to defend and protect and celebrate. But when you feel that the earth loves you in return, that feeling transforms the relationship from a one-way street into a sacred bond.” ~ Robin Wall Kimmerer

We then discussed the ideas a bit and Ajani instructed us to begin artmaking in the materials of our choice as we felt moved to do so. But Ajani also let us know they would be reading the passage again as we worked.

Ed Rath, Sky Woman Falling

Sigrid Dolan, Sky Woman
Chloe Kaas, Sky Woman

Ajani Russell, Sky Woman, Creatures on the Way

Marilyn August, Sky Woman, with Creatures

Jules writes: "Our classes have already helped me to grow as an artist, I’m so thankful to be a part of ART YARD! I think watercolor was the perfect medium for what I was trying to capture in this piece. I’ll definitely make sure to send you the completed work! Im super excited for how it’ll all look at the end but I’m having fun getting there ❤️."

Jules Lorenzo, Sky Woman, Creatures on the Way

Abby Johnson, Sky Woman, Love in Return

Meridith McNeal, Sky Woman, Growing Clematis: The Earth Loves in Return

Kevin Anderson, Sky Woman, Turtle Island (in Progress)

Carolyn Baird, Sky Woman, Sweet Grass

Karla Prickett, Sky Woman, Sweet Grass

Eden Moore, Sky Woman, Turtle Island


From PS 17 in Jersey City, Dennis reports, “I placed the order for the 22' x 10' muslin as we are ready to begin painting the backdrop. Once received, Teaching Artist Fatima Traore's composite of the afterschool students' designs will be projected onto the muslin and painted. All hands on deck - as art teacher Ralph Przyanowski will have students work on the backdrop even on the days we are not at the school. This will give us the much needed time to get masks and props made. The muslin is being made with grommets 12 inches apart across the top for hanging.

PS 17 Lion King backdrop design

PS 17 Lion King backdrop design

Lower grade students - those that worked on African patterns - created cut out masks using templates made by Fatima (who also helped with the cutting) and 7th and 8th graders continued with their mask paintings, soon to be used for "mass production" for the entire ensemble AND as an exhibition of The Art Of The Lion King. Time is flying by so quickly and we've still got lots to do. Everyone is participating at a level of 100%.

At work at PS 17

PS 17 Lion King mask design

PS 17 student at work on Lion King mask design (in progress)

PS 17 Lion King mask designs (in progress)

We were joined by Ms. Murphy's class during afterschool and discussed various types of insects - designs are needed as the first step to creating props for the production. Lots of ideas are thrown around when discussing how to create such 'bugs' - foam? cardboard? felt?... and how to stuff them? We discussed scale and sizing, taking into consideration the sizes of the performers and audience members being able to see them from the rear of the auditorium.

PS 17 Lion King bug props design (in progress)

Mr. Pryzanowksi created a Scar foam mask sample - which is excellent - and will be used as an idea for other masks. Sizing; durability; weight; etc. all come into play so several prototypes need to be made. Additionally, Pride Rock is nearly complete (now with a safety measure in place) and Chani climbed up to try it out.

Scar foam mask (in progress) and testing out set piece

I met with Ms. Reyes, the director of the production, and attended (as I do weekly) a bit of the rehearsal. Things are coming together extremely well.

PS 17 in rehearsal for Lion King

Also - it was FATIMA day at PS 17 this week. In one particular class, we had students named Fatma and Fatimatu so together with OUR Fatima, I was OUT-Fatima-ed. And that was very nice!”

Fatma, Fatima, and Fatimatu!


Managing Director Dennis Buonagura reports in: “At the East New York High School of Arts and Civics, Teaching Artist Fatima Traore and I worked with several students to finish up previous projects and introduced the current project ("Remastering The Masters") to those students who missed the introductory lesson.

Fatima works with students at East NY High School of Arts + Civics

Amaya started her draft of Hopper's "Nighthawks" while Josh created a new spin on "The Scream" by designing a broken glass effect. Sabrina and Ines added their 'signatures' in Japanese to their Great Wave pieces and Kirk continued putting his finishing touches on his Kehinde Wiley portrait. Ines also developed further ideas for her Kahlo piece now known as "Ines and Hazel" and Elizabeth added content to her Bedroom in Arles work.

Edvard Munch, The Scream, 1893 and Josh's version of The Scream (in progress)

Leonardo da Vinci, Mona Lisa, 1503-1506 and Rah-nee's Mona Lisa Earth Mother (in progress)

Fatima's working on her "Girl With The Pearl Earring" piece. I brought lots of printed papers, wrapping paper, and magazines to class for those that chose to add a collage effect to their paintings making them multimedia. As always, Fatima's sample pieces set the tone for inspiration.”

Fatima Traore after Johannes Vermeer, Girl With The Pearl Earring, 1665 & detail (in progress)


"Why do birds suddenly appear .....?"

Fatima Traore, Owl

Dennis answers that question: "Nature Takes Flight" took flight at PS 6 in Jersey City - lots of images of birds, insects, swarms of bees, owls, flying squirrels, bats, hummingbirds, platypuses (platypi?) and ... basically anything that flies (keep in mind the word NATURE - since lots of students wanted to draw airplanes, rocket ships, and vampires) were shown for inspiration. One very engaged student told me that "Peter Pan flies" - and he's real, too".... so I should argue with a 2nd grader?

Fatima introduces the lesson

Our cycle this time around is 2 classes of 2nd graders and one class of 1st graders - all who either like to work VERY quickly (we often hear "I'm done" a few minutes after we begin) or V E R Y slowly (many want to achieve perfection - which is terrific but time is quite limited) so it’s Teaching artist Fatima Traore to the rescue.

PS 6 Students at work on Flying Creatures drawings

Fatima is excellent in keeping everyone at the same pace (1st and 2nd graders would also like to participate in 'taking flight' themselves so classroom management is vital - thank you to the PS 6 teachers for overseeing) and being certain that they all work in steps instead of rushing ahead (not an easy task with classes that are sometimes filled with 20 to 30 students). First day of the cycle, of course, is the pencil drafting stage but Fatima's plan is to add color next week for these cutout sculptures which will be suspended for exhibition.

Flying Creatures drawings were then cut out.  

(use arrows to scroll images)