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Our international art exchange project.

Our international art exchange project

"WE'RE GOING TO BE WORKING on a special project this year, one that will involve you and other boys and girls around the world. Interested?" I asked by three fifth grade art classes at the beginning of the school year. The objective was two-fold. I wanted to teach my students that the culture of a country is reflected in its art, and that art is a universal language. This could be done, I believed, by looking at the artwork of other countries, particularly artwork created by children the same age as my students.

Early in the school year, we began collecting addresses of people living in other countries from friends, relatives, teachers and occasionally U.S. ambassadors. Each month, the students in each class selected a country. The students then wrote letters to the children in that country, asking if they would send us examples of their artwork in exchange for the artwork we were sending them. I selected the best letter from each class, along with some of the more successful artwork, and wrote another letter, introducing myself and my class to the addressee in that country. After a brief explanation of our project, I asked if that person would forward or deliver the student artwork and letter to a school in their city having a class of ten or eleven-year-old children.


The first artwork to arrive was from Doune Primary School in Perthshire, Scotland. It consisted of mobiles and cards with a Christmas theme. A letter from the children was included in which they discussed these projects and others they had been working on, such as a Victorian Christmas mural, for their classroom. Their art teacher comes "once a fortnight for 20 minutes."


"Unfortunately, in my country there are not so many schools where painting can be taught," wrote art teacher Rosa Maria of Mexico City. She teaches in the elementary schools as well as a children's group at the National Institute of Fine Arts. The works she sent were of a sliced watermelon, a house and a nonobjective design, all in vibrant colors.

Saudi Arabia

We were overwhelmed by the amount of work sent to use by the fifth graders of the Dhahran Ahliyya Schools in Dahmam, Saudi Arabia. They wrote us that each year they hold student art shows and that one recent show was the Saudi Fisheries Company's Art Competition. The winning work was reproduced in color on a calendar printed in both Arabic and English. (We learned with a little research that English is the major language after Arabic and that at the universities, instruction is frequently in English.) We received two calendars featuring work by elementary through high school age children. Each was an impressive collection.

We also received individual artwork from Saudi Arabia that was mostly of desert scenes in colored pencils: a hawk scouting the desert, the Bedouins on camels and in tents, oases and similar scenes. City life was depicted in very few drawings, which is not surprising, considering that only twenty-five percent of the population are urban dwellers. In contrast to the desert scenes were drawings of Saudi Arabian military aircraft. We have since mailed more artwork to these children, upon their request, featuring the area around our town and some of our daily activities. In addition to the art exchanges, we are attempting to start a pen pal program between our fourth graders and Saudi Arabian fourth graders.


The children of the Sacred Heart School in Alexandria, Egypt, also astounded us with the quality of artwork sent. The most detailed of any artwork we received, the emphasis was on intricate line and color using colored inks. All of the Egyptian scenes depicted people. Dressed in richly patterned clothing were shoppers and vendors in crowded market places, workers in the fields picking cotton and harvesting dates, men fishing, people celebrating, and many other such scenes. This artwork told us much about Egyptian life and gave my students an incentive to read about Egypt in their spare time.


Japan was one of the few countries for which we went through government channels. It took several months, but it was worth the wait. From the watercolor paintings of the ten and eleven-year-olds to the crayon drawings of the five and six-year-olds, all were impressive in their blending of colors and their use of the entire paper for their compositions. Japan's technological advances were certainly reflected along with Tokyo's tremendous population. The children filled large sheets of paper with supertrains, spaceships, planes, ships, etc. generally crowded with people. There were no home or family life scenes, none that seemed to represent daily activities, and the figure was barely emphasized--it was usually one of many. In contrast, some of the younger children sent oil-crayon drawings of lobsters drawn in vivid, yet subtly blended reds, oranges and blues.


"Ours is not a school, but a program based on creativity for slum children of Ahmedabad, India. We are trying to build up confidence in deprived children. We want to make them aware also. The art media are the tools to enter inside of children. We do not teach what to do, we provide material and appreciate what they express," writes teacher Furchand Purwar of the Sarjan in Ahmedabad. One child's peacock was painted on taped together pages of a corporation's audit report. Another child worked on pages torn out of a calendar. But though their materials are poor, their work captures their hopeful spirits in bright, vibrant colors.


A selection of artwork from each country and all of the letters received were first displayed in our school's cafeteria. On the first day of the exhibit, the cafeteria employees and aides on duty dressed in colorful costumes representing the native dress of various countries. Teachers walked their students through the cafeteria throughout the week to look at and discuss the work.

The work has been exhibited at the central library for the general public and was featured in the local newspapers. My students' artwork was exhibited along with the exchange work to represent the U.S.A., of course. The exhibit was well received and the library requested that we extend the duration.

Although we did not receive replies from many of the coutnries we mailed work to (we expected some would not be able to participate due to mailing costs and/or language problems), the countries that did respond circled the globe from Mexico to Japan. My students and I spent some wonderful class time studying the artwork. We discussed the various themes, materials used, color and detail, evidence of the modern world mixing with tradition, the art history of a country and its contributions to the modern day work, and much, much more. Next year, I hope to broaden the exchange program further. Even though the fifth graders participating in this project will no longer be students at Palmetto Elementary School, they can be proud that they helped open the doors between U.S. children and the children of other lands by talking to one another in the universal language of art.

PHOTO : A girl in a festive dress painted by a child from Egypt.

PHOTO : A Japanese fifth graders' watercolor illustration of his original space adventure.

PHOTO : A child from India drew this peacock on taped-together pages of scrap papers.

PHOTO : An Egyptian 11-year-old's portrayal of a market scene.
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Title Annotation:elementary school art project
Author:Cocciolone, Kathy R.
Publication:School Arts
Date:May 1, 1989
Previous Article:The Electronic Gallery.
Next Article:Art education: a world view.

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