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Faux art.

Faux finishes (marblizing, woodgraining, trompe l'oeil, glazing) have been tooling the human mind and eye for thousands of years. Examples of painted finishes can be found in the ruins of Pompeii and in the tomb of Tutankhamen. In the early 1900s, itinerant artists from Europe decorated many private homes in cities and small towns throughout America. Eventually, every American house painter had at least one marble and woodgrain finish to show his clients. With changing tastes and attitudes, the popularity of the painted finish declined after World War II. However, with the present interest in architectural restoration and knowledge of modern materials, faux finishes are not only desirable again hut also necessary.

After returning from my sabbatical leave in Sail Francisco where I learned to do painted finishes, I was eager to try faux finishing with my students. When the music instructor at my elementary school informed me that her fifth and sixth grade chorus was to perform the Walt Disney version of Cinderella, I knew my students were about to become faux artists.

From previous art projects, my fifth and sixth grade students were familiar with the process of creating depth by blending chalk, pastel and charcoal. We had also done sponge printing and sponge stenciling. However, I was not sure the students could execute the sophisticated processes involved with painted finishes.

For the Cinderella production, twenty scenery students were assigned the job of designing and constructing a three-dimensional castle which opened into an interior room and a separate ballroom scene. I felt the students and I needed a fairy godmother of our very own!

Scenery students used the school library to research medieval castles and find printed samples of marble. Then they built a scale model of the castle using index cards.

For our first finish we created faux stone by sponging tempera paint onto gray construction paper using natural sea sponges. Then the "stone" was glued to large panels of foamcore board to create castle walls. Next students wiped a watery blue-green tempera paint over the castle towers to imitate a verdigris (patina found on aged copper and bronze) finish. By the time they started sponge printing the interior castle walls, the students felt they had become expert faux painters.

Creating faux marble using black and pink pastel on sheets of foam board was not as fast and easy as the other finishes. Much thought had to be given to the diagonal direction of the veining, the weight and intensity of each line, and the shading required to imitate the depth found in real marble. When completed, the foam board was scored with a knife and bent to form eight-foot tall marblized columns.

The marblized pillars seemed to create a stir of excitement from students and staff throughout the school. "It looks like real marble!" and "Can I touch it?" was heard again and again. The young scenery students were beaming!

After three weeks of work and doubts about my students' success, the Cinderella sets were completed and arranged on stage. The musical play was a great success. Parents, relatives and students packed the school auditorium not only to see the performance but also the outstanding scenery and sets. I guess we didn't need that fairy godmother after all.

Jim Hopton is the art teacher at Jefferson-Morgan Elementary School, Jefferson, Pennsylvania.
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Author:Hopton, Jim
Publication:School Arts
Date:Feb 1, 1990
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