If you never thought of Westminster's Longwell Municipal Center as an artist's studio, that's probably because you hadn't seen Sarah Thompson create a pale green panoply of leaves reminiscent of a Monet watercolor using only her finger and an inked stamp pad.
Or Meredith Hughes making trees with delicate tracery by using a sponge dipped in green paint.
Sarah, 6, a first-grader at William Winchester Elementary School, and Meredith, 7, a second-grader at Eldersburg Elementary School, were among 100 first-, second- and third-grade students who made wrapping paper, mice to hang on Christmas trees and a gift apiece for Mom and Dad at the fourth annual holiday workshop, sponsored by the city recreation department.
Meredith explained her sponge-painting technique: "You dip a sponge in paint and then squish it."
Eat your heart out, Jackson Pollock.
It would spoil the surprise to reveal the gifts, but it can be said that some parents are likely to be more surprised than others.
Jesse Calvert, 7, a second-grader at William Winchester Elementary, added an original, unauthorized touch to his father's gift.
Jesse said his father wouldn't think the finished product was out of the ordinary. "I'm always that way," he said.
Recreation Director Carol Donovan called a halt to some of the creative uses of green stamp pad ink. "No putting fingerprints on your partners," she announced firmly.
Sarah said she would buy gifts for her parents in addition to the ones she made at the workshop. Her own Christmas list is very short: a white cat. Sarah has had to learn some grown-up lessons about mortality in the fates met by her earlier cats. Two died of feline leukemia, and one was run over by a car. But she would like to try again with another cat.
Sharon Zearfoss, 6, a first-grader at William Winchester, said she planned to make another gift for her mother, but she has a long wish list of her own: My Pal II, a robot she prizes for its ability to talk and guard the door; a Crimp n Curl Cabbage Patch doll; assorted additional Barbies; Barbie's Folding Fun House I Build; and a red, white and blue ball.
Sharon was confident that she had behaved well enough all year to merit the bonanza she was seeking. But she added, "I'm not too sure about my brother."
To assemble the mouse, Mrs. Donovan had the young crafts workers pull pre-cut ears through holes in the mouse's face.
Not all the ears ended up in the same relationship to the mice's faces initially. But eventually they got straightened out, with the help of Mrs. Donovan and five assistants who staffed the workshop.
Joey Kennedy, 7, a second-grader at William Winchester Elementary, said making the mouse was the best part of the workshop, "because you get to put a lot of stuff together on it and you get to put a tail on it and you can hang it on the tree."
Kelly Weiner, 6, a first-grader at Westminster Elementary School, agreed that the mouse was the best. Kelly said she probably will go shopping with her grandmother to buy additional gifts for her mother and father. Her own Christmas wish list includes a makeup set and different kinds of stuffed bears.
Does she collect bears? "No," Kelly replied, "but I collect money."
Making her mother's gift was the best and the worst part of the workshop for Chelsea Efland, 7, a second-grader at William Winchester Elementary. It was fun, she said, but said that safety pins "kept stabbing my finger."
The workshop is limited to 100 children, the maximum the staff can handle. Some had to be turned away because the roster was full, said Kristin Walters, recreation program coordinator.
The recreation department charges a $5 fee for the workshop, which covers supplies and staff time. It's a break-even program, Ms. Walters said.
Mrs. Donovan said she tries to come up with programs for children when school is not in session.
She said she started the holiday workshops "because I know kids have trouble buying stuff at that age."