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EDUCATION : Brush With Art Widens Children's World

March 26, 1995|LORENZA MUNOZ | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

In just one afternoon, Phyllis Medeiros' class of squirming third-graders discussed art criticism, art history and geography.

They also learned a little French, and although these may be sophisticated topics for young children, they loved it.

The students at Westchester's Loyola Village School were using an innovative program that supplies educators with colorful posters and resource materials in order to expand art education beyond the standard European classics.

Developed by the Getty Center for Education in the Arts, the latest posters in the series feature five works by female artists of the Americas and five works of art from India.

There are paintings by Frida Kahlo of Mexico and Elizabeth Adela Armstrong Forbes of Canada, and photographs by Lola Alvarez Bravo of Mexico and others.

Each poster is accompanied by a teacher's guide, a timeline and a series of questions to spark discussions on aesthetics, criticism, art history and production.

"These prints are really just steppingstones for other subjects," said Medeiros, a teacher for 29 years.

Previous series, published in 1991 and 1992, featured African American, Asian Pacific, Mexican American and Native American artists.

Kathy Talley-Jones, manager of publications for the Getty Center, said the idea came up because teachers were asking for more diverse images to use in the classroom.

"What we had available was mostly Western European art," she said. "Most of (the materials) focused on fine art as opposed to folk art or women's artwork. Our approach is to ask a lot of questions about how the artwork was done. In a lot of communities, art is functional. In some communities, art is not something that is eternal, it is not something to be preserved but to be used."

At the Loyola Village School, the topic of the day was a work by African American painter Lois Mailou Jones, "Esquisse for Ode to Kinshasa."

The work, Medeiros told her class, reflects the artist's international influences.

Like many young artists in the 1930s, Mailou Jones went to Paris to polish her painting skills.

Later, she became acquainted with her cultural roots by spending time in Africa.

The title of her painting, "Esquisse for Ode to Kinshasa" means a sketch for a poem to Kinshasa, the capital city of Zaire.

The third-graders were asked if they knew where Paris was.

They responded with an enthusiastic "Yes!" Later, they identified and colored Zaire on a map.

"I really like this because I really like art," said 7-year-old Porsche Norman, adding that she wants to be an artist one day. "It is something I look forward to very much. I just want to learn as much as I can."

Said Evan Flock, 8: "I think it is fun. It will help me when I grow up. If someone asks me a question, I won't say 'I don't know.' I'd have the answer."

Medeiros said she intends to touch on African masks, tribal symbols, literature and lullabies in the next few weeks.

The art poster series has also led Medeiros to read up on the history and customs of Africa.

"Did you know (the song) 'Kumbaya' is from the Congo?" she asked. "I used to sing that in Girl Scouts."

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