The young-at-art get aid from old masters

March 03, 1994|By Ellie Baublitz | Ellie Baublitz,Contributing Writer

Move over, old masters. There's a new generation of painters blossoming in Carroll County.

Ruth Aukerman, an artist and art teacher at Elmer Wolfe Elementary and Francis Scott Key High schools in Union Bridge, has just published a book -- "Move Over, Picasso! A Young Painter's Primer" -- that uses works by the great masters of painting to teach art to young children.

Merging the creative and academic processes, Mrs. Aukerman has developed a teaching style that encourages her students to free their creative energies. The results are paintings that fooled a museum security guard who sees "real art" every day.

"There are two schools of teaching art: the creative movement, where you put a blank piece of paper in front of the child and tell him to draw something," she said. "The other is academic, where you show him how to draw an apple or have him copy a great painting.

"What I'm doing is combining the two methods. I tell the child to enter the artwork so he becomes a participant in the scene," said Mrs. Aukerman. "And when that happens, the results are incredible."

She uses the method with her high school students, encouraging them to respond to a great painting. They do, she said, though not as spontaneously as younger students.

"The paintings are really free responses to the masters -- the children don't make carbon copies," she said. "It's like a story -- they get into it and become part of it and invent their own."

Although she has been teaching for about 20 years and writing a book about art had been in the back of her mind, doing it took some encouragement from a parent.

"I was going to a basketball game at Elmer Wolfe and saw all these wonderful artworks on the wall and thought we should be able to do something with them," said Judy Reilly, who is an editor at Craft World's Pat Depke Books and the mother of Joe, a third-grade student in one of Mrs. Aukerman's art classes.

The paintings Mrs. Reilly saw had been inspired by great artworks; Mrs. Aukerman had borrowed transparencies from the National Gallery of Art in Washington to show her students. From lessons based on works such as Edward Hicks' "Peaceable Kingdom" and Pablo Picasso's "The Tragedy," the children created their own masterpieces.

Because the paintings Mrs. Aukerman used were all from the National Gallery, an agreement was worked out that Pat Depke Books would publish the book, reproducing the masterworks as well as the children's works, in cooperation with the gallery.

Just off the presses, "Move Over, Picasso!" should be in area stores this week, Mrs. Reilly said.

Easy for a child to read and understand, the book also is a guide for parents and art educators to teach children how to paint using the example of the old masters while encouraging the child's own creativity.

"It's very sound educationally -- it encourages higher-level thinking skills, focusing and creativity," Mrs. Aukerman said. "If parents will work with their children with this book, it will help the children."

An artist in her own right who has exhibited around the Baltimore-Washington area, Mrs. Aukerman, 51, studied art in her native Germany with Fritz Winter, who was a student of the well-known artists Paul Klee and Vasili Kandinsky. Her husband, Dale, encouraged her and, after the couple's three children got older, she began teaching.

Besides the public school teaching, she teaches at the Young People's Studio at the Maryland Institute, College of Art in Baltimore. She has taken students into her Union Bridge home for summer courses.

"I love to teach children art," she said. "I enjoy teaching tremendously."

She emphasized that most of the 35 children whose paintings appear in her book come from Carroll County schools; some others from the Young People's Studio.

The students come from all socioeconomic, racial and ethnic backgrounds and abilities.

Barbara Moore, head of publications for the Education Division at the National Gallery of Art, said, "In the John Sloan painting, 'The City from Greenwich Village,' the exercises [Mrs. Aukerman] suggests really open the kids up to uses in light, color and architecture.

"When you see what the kids did, the things are really interesting."

Some of the paintings are so well done that, when Mrs. Reilly and fellow editor Victoria Crenson took them to the National Gallery for a meeting with editors, a security guard wouldn't let them out of the building.

"We had a painting of sunflowers, and he thought it was real art and had to check with the head guard before he'd let us leave," Ms. Crenson said.

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