Crafting Lessons On Mexico

February 18, 1994|By Ivan Penn | Ivan Penn,Sun Staff Writer

With hand-carved wooden puppet shows and crafts lessons, such as how to make a 3-foot papier-mache sun mask, John Patrick "Pat" Picciano has brought a taste of Mexico to students at Laurel Woods Elementary School.

"They'll remember Mexico now for the rest of their lives, and it's going to be a good memory," Mr. Picciano said.

The 40-year-old New York native, who now lives in Baltimore, is one of about 30 artists visiting county schools through the Howard County Arts Council's Artist in Education Program, which began in 1989 as a way to infuse information about other cultures into the curriculum.

The council provides matching grants to local Parent-Teacher Associations for artists who visit schools for up to six weeks.

For the past two weeks, Mr. Picciano has helped first-grade students at Laurel Woods with their study of Mexico.

A mostly self-taught artist, his only training came from an apprenticeship with Juan Horta, one of Mexico's most noted mask makers.

Mr. Picciano spent three years in Mexico learning from the Tarascan Indians how to carve wood and weave material, working in a crafts village about five hours west of Mexico City.

He has used those skills to craft puppets and draws upon his formal training in theater to create themes and scripts for his shows.

In 1986, he left Mexico and carried his skills into classrooms up and down the East Coast, and now to Laurel Woods, which has at least one artist in residence work with a particular grade each year.

"We've been teaching all aspects of Mexico -- the art, the language, the culture," Mr. Picciano said. "It's incredibly rewarding."

He opened his three-week program with a puppet show that includes his own, wooden hand-crafted puppets. During the course of the three weeks, he will let students watch him make puppets, which he plans to use for a full show when he completes enough scenes, Mr. Picciano said.

In the middle of his lessons, Mr. Picciano tosses out Spanish words and phrases to the students to add more Mexican flair to the study.

"Magnifico," Mr. Picciano said to about a dozen students, who were helping him construct a sun mask yesterday at Laurel Woods. "That means stupendous."

Students often responded to him by repeating the Spanish.

" Blanco' means white. 'Flor' means flower," said 7-year-old Tony Ramagnano, a first-grader working on the sun mask project.

"I like Spanish, and I like that I get to make the ray beams" on the sun mask, said 7-year-old Jordan Smalls, a first-grader who was stuffing one of the sunbeams on the mask with newspaper.

Brianne Hoe, a 6-year-old first-grader, caught up in the excitement of the mask-making lesson, just smiled and laughed when talking about the project. Finally, she said, "It's fun."

Brianne and the other students will add papier-mache to the mask today. They also will construct pinatas as part of the Mexico study and will break them at the close of the unit next week.

"It's really been an eye-opening experience for the students," said school Principal Tricia Tidgewell. "He certainly is very passionate about his craft, and it spills over to the students."

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