Wildlife inspires artwork of Phillips students

February 28, 2003

Art teacher Steven Dobbin is intensely proud of his kids.

"We have tremendous artistic ability," Dobbin said.

About 40 children from the Phillips School in North Laurel, where Dobbin teaches, are showing their work at Patuxent Research Refuge in Laurel as part of an exhibition of wildlife art by children with special needs from schools across the state. The show, which runs through Thursday, is part of the National Wildlife Refuge System's yearlong celebration of its centennial.

Nell Baldacchino, spokeswoman and wildlife biologist at the refuge, said she did not know how many pieces were on display, but "the lobby and the hallway are all full."

"Of course, one of our missions at the refuge is to encourage appreciation of wildlife, and art is a wonderful medium to do that," she said.

"Hundreds of pieces are in it," Dobbin said. "It's a huge production. There are paintings, sculptures drawings, prints, batiks - pretty much anything that you could hope for in an art show."

It is refuge's third annual show of artwork by children in special education programs of the Maryland Association of Nonpublic Special Education Facilities.

Dobbin's students worked with visiting artist Doug Moulden to create striking, vividly colored paintings of animals on wood.

"What Doug has done is, he's developed a certain technique of painting which is extruding acrylic paint from syringes," Dobbin said. "What you end up with is a highly textured painting. They're phenomenal. They're layered and colorful. Each one depicts an animal. They're spectacular, really."

The paintings are on display in the National Wildlife Visitor Center, which has displays on endangered species, an observation deck with binoculars and telescopes to look out over Cash Lake, Dobbin said.

"If you're lucky enough to be there at the right time, there's a nesting pair of bald eagles that will come in to the lake and be looking for food," he said.

A reception planned for a week ago was snowed out. It was rescheduled from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. today, but may be snowed out again. Readings of poetry by the Phillips students and refreshments have been planned.

"A friend of mine [Bernard Jankowski] who is a poet came in and worked with our students to create poems about wildlife - `If I were a bear,' and this sort of thing," said Dobbin, who for the past four years has assembled books of the children's poetry.

These are not the only projects he has going with his kids.

"Before we started the refuge [artwork], we did a big project about neighborhoods," he said. "Since so many of our kids come from so many different places, we've become a neighborhood in ourselves. So we did a big piece about that."

The children built a village with 155 houses of plywood, and a cast of each child's face was placed in a house "so it would be their house," Dobbin said. A collection of poems, titled See Me, accompanied the project.

The children also have made 100 molds and cast 3,003 clay copies of their faces to commemorate lives lost in the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.

"What we're doing is taking the clay faces and creating a labyrinth of remembrance in the woods next to the school" as soon as spring arrives, Dobbin said. It will be a schoolwide project.

The National Wildlife Visitor Center, 10901 Scarlet Tanager Loop, is open from 10 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. daily. Information: 301- 497-5763.

The Phillips School serves about 150 youths ages 6 to 21 who have severe emotional, learning or behavioral disabilities.

Library in Savage to hold program on writing

The Savage branch library, 9525 Durness Lane, will offer "Get It Write: The Inside Scoop on Becoming a Better Writer" at 10 a.m. March 8 and 15.

Free-lance journalists Lisa Kawata and Tony Glaros will share tips. Participants should bring a pen and notebook and plan to write.

Information: 410-880-5980.

Military

Competes training: Navy Seaman Recruit Christopher M. Tyson, son of David C. and Gloria J. Tyson of Jessup, has completed basic training at Recruit Training Command, Great Lakes, Ill. He is a 2001 graduate of Howard High School.

Around town

Theater: Burtonsville Players will present a comedy by Israel Horovitz, The Primary English Class, at 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays - today through March 22, with 2 p.m. matinees Sunday and March 9 - at its newly renovated Laurel Mill Playhouse, 508 Main St., Laurel. Tickets are $10. 301-617-9906 or www.burtonsvilleplayers.org.

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