Art for the Sky

Westside, May Street students to create a massive Mount Hood

By all appearances, they were only drawings on green construction paper. But appearances can be deceiving, and these drawings were much more than what they looked like — Mount Hood. They were the beginnings of an extraordinary project to be played out this spring in Hood River’s elementary schools.

The drawings were done by 11 fifth-grade artists at Westside Elementary School last week, and they depicted 11 different interpretations of Mount Hood. Some were colored white for the snow. Others had purple shadows or brown squiggly lines for the spurs on the mountain’s flanks. Each had its own flair, and all were done by talented young artists.

“I don’t know if it’s going to make my job easier or harder having all these great designs to work from,” said Mosier artist Daniel Dancer as he walked among the students Wednesday morning watching them draw.

The pictures the students were drawing will help Dancer come up with a final design for the Art for the Sky project, which will take place in May. That’s when Dancer will bring what he calls his “one-week learning adventure” to Westside and May Street schools.

Art for the Sky is a week-long project that includes classroom learning about history, art, culture and ecology, slide presentations and group discussions. The project, which will run May 5-9, culminates when May Street students are bused to Westside where the combined student bodies and school staff — totaling more than 1,000 people — will gather on the playing field to create a human “picture” of Mount Hood.

As students in color-coordinated T-shirts gather on an outline drawn on the grass, Dancer will fly above it in an airplane taking photographs — hence the name, art for the sky.

“Remember, people are going to be making the lines you draw,” Dancer told the fifth-graders last week. “When we’re up in the sky looking down on it, we want it to jump out at us, and the only way to do that is with bright colors.”

Dancer has brought his Art for the Sky program to elementary schools around the state, but this will be the first time he’s conducted the program locally.

The project and its funding are being spearheaded by three local women: Ellen Trichter, Suzanne Haynes and Sheila Shearer. The trio, who have been meeting regularly for nearly a decade in a women’s group, decided to help bring the project to local schools as a way to expand their circle of discussion and learning.

“We’re three people, and sometimes we see things so differently,” Shearer said. “We thought, how can we take each perspective into a situation and create something better?” Trichter, who works with children everyday as director of the Prime Time after school program at Westside, knew of Dancer’s Art for the Sky program and thought it would be an ideal way to offer students — and the community — a chance to experience hands-on what her women’s group had come to learn: that the sum of the whole is greater than its individual parts.

“(Dancer’s) project is very close to my heart,” Trichter said. The women approached Westside Principal Terry Vann, who was enthusiastic about the idea, and the group decided to work on making it happen.

One of the goals of the project, according to Dancer, is to teach kids how to “get above a problem and look down on it.”

“Problems are created on the ground,” he said. “Sometimes if you can get up above it, you can see the impact.” Looking at things from a different perspective, he said, also helps kids learn to appreciate other points of view.

Dancer usually creates animals in his Art for the Sky projects, but he felt Mount Hood would be more appropriate for Hood River Valley students.

“Every child paints Mount Hood in school,” he said. “It’s right in our own back yard.” Dancer will take the pictures drawn by the Westside students last week and come up with a final design. Trichter, Haynes and Shearer will spend the next few weeks organizing logistics, getting T-shirts made and fund-raising to cover the costs of the project.

In the meantime, students at both schools are looking forward to the week-long program.

“It’s going to be really cool,” said Westside fifth-grader Leo Dorich. “It’s like everybody can say, ‘I did this.’ It’s going to be huge.”

Donations to help pay for Art for the Sky can be made via an account set up at Cascade Credit Union, 1206 12th Street in Hood River.

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