The arrival of spring not only heralds the rebirthing of plants and animal, it blossoms in a whirl of human activities, among them the restocking of garden centers, the reappearance of farmer’s markets, the return of festivals and fairs, the flourishing of craft shows, of art shows, and to my mind, one of the most delightful of them is the burgeoning of children’s art, an aspect of the rich and complex world of aesthetics often overlooked and marginalized.
Dunedin, Florida artist, Steven Spathelf (www.stirlingartstudios.com) told me of a young person’s art show in Crystal Beach, Florida that he recently judged. I would have liked to have attended that one. Steven and I agree that this type of art is among our favorites. My most recent experience with the genre came about as a result of my involvement with a fund-raiser in the form of a spaghetti dinner, an auction, and musical entertainment, an event held in mid-April, 2012, and specifically put together to support the art department of Sullivant Gardens Recreation Center. It is one of several such public institutions under the auspices of the Parks and Recreation Department of the City of Columbus, Ohio. Sullivant Gardens services an area of the city that is primarily low-income, and as such is a field of dreams for the young people who frequent the establishment, and as in every field of dreams, mentors abound. In the case of this recreation center, there is an entire staff of them. This particular communiqué, however, will address the art teacher of Sullivant Gardens, Kristen Leigh Brown.
Armed with inside information regarding the dedication of Ms. Brown to her young students, I was determined to meet her personally, and I chose a Thursday evening prior to the fund-raiser to call on her at the recreation center. I had begun my day, however, in the office of my Orthopedic Surgeon, there to receive the results of an MRI on my injured left knee. As I sat in his reception area awaiting my conference with him, I picked up a copy WebMD magazine, a glowing photograph of actress/singer/dancer, Jennifer Lopez gracing its cover, an article within its pages recounting Lopez’s newly appointed position as the spokesperson for the Boys & Girls Clubs of America, the first female to fill the spot in its 152-year history. The piece states that, “’Jenny From the Block,’ as [Lopez] once dubbed herself in song, is from a hardscrabble stretch in New York City’s South Bronx. In the halls of her local Boys & Girls Club, Kips Bay, Lopez found a mentor who recognized and encouraged her love of music and dance. I didn’t think it coincidental that I found that particular story about Jennifer Lopez on the very day that I was to meet Kristen Leigh Brown, a person on whom I was prepared to lay odds was cut from the same piece of priceless fabric as Lopez’s girlhood advocate.
Like one of the Three Kings in the Bible story, it was as if I were also following a star, and like the three of them, I arrived unannounced and bearing gifts. Rather than gold, frankincense, or myrrh, however, my offerings were a signed print of one of my paintings to be auctioned off at the fund-raiser, and plastic flatware, plates, and cups enough to accommodate an army of dinner guests. The place was a beehive of activity—I had to nearly shoulder my way into the front door that opened onto the reception area, and I’m sure the disoriented look on my face inspired a man in athletic clothing to immediately come to my rescue and inquire of me if he could be of any help.
“Is Kristen Brown here, by any chance?” I asked the nice man, a person to whom Ms. Brown later introduced to me as “Mr. T.”, Michael Terlecky, he turned out to be, the person who is the director of the recreation center.
“Yes—she’s back in the art room. Do you know where it is?” Mr. T. inquired.
“No, I’m afraid I don’t. This is my first time at the center,” I replied, my over-stuffed plastic bag by then dragging on the floor.
“Follow me,” he said cheerily.
I fell in behind the man as we wended our way through the crowd and down a couple of short hallways, the walls plastered with posters of various kinds, the unique cacophony of a lively basketball game on the large inner court resounding through the perfect acoustics of the brick building. “This lady is here to see you, Ms. Brown,” Mr. T. informed her as he led me through the art room door, and then he vacated the place.
Three or four children ranging in age from six, to perhaps ten years of age, were busy with one art project or another, various art supplies ranging the tops of the five banquet-sized tables that dominate the space. A typical domain of aspiring young artists, not unlike the art rooms of my elementary school years, it features a large and deep, paint-scarred sink; floor-level, built-in cabinetry, the countertops littered with art supplies, art projects, both completed and still struggling toward completion; and several fantastic pieces of children’s art decorating the walls. The only atypical aspect of the room was Kristen Leigh Brown, a tiny and bright redhead in her very early twenties, a person not much taller than her young wards.
Ms. Brown approached me joyfully from the middle of the room as I entered her sanctuary, a sacred place to her and to me, we two who resonate from our artist’s hearts. I extended my hand and said, “I’m Linda Lee Greene. Have you had a chance to read my email that I sent you yesterday? I’m the one who inquired if I might write about you.”
For a moment Ms. Brown’s soft, kind eyes glazed over in embarrassed ignorance of my identity, and she replied apologetically, “I was only able to skim my emails…but, oh yes, now I remember,” her eyes lighting up in recognition. “You want to write about Sullivant Gardens in your blog.”
“Yes, I do, and I also want to write about the people behind the scenes—about you and your efforts for the center. I hope that we can schedule time to talk, but in the meantime, I’ve brought some things I think you might be able to use for your fund raiser,” I said as I pulled out the art print from my huge plastic bag. “And see, I’ve brought lots and lots of tableware for the event.”
“Oh Kids, come look…look! This is Ms. Greene and she’s a real artist!” Ms. Brown exclaimed as she held up the art print in her hands for her kids to see. The children all scrambled around us, in unison their voices emitting in “Ooohs” and “Ahhhs,” as, for the first time in their young lives, they scrutinized a real piece of professional artwork. “See—this is what you can do if you work for it,” Ms. Brown instructed her students. “Ms. Greene has brought other things to help us raise money for our art supplies. Say ‘Thank you’ to Ms. Greene.”
“Thank you, Ms. Greene,” dutifully the children responded in a loud chorus, their beautiful faces alight with bright smiles.
We discussed the pending fund-raiser, and I commented on the wonderful artwork done by the children that graced the walls of the room, walls painted in bright and cheerful colors by Ms. Brown, one wall in purple, still another in blue, another in green, the fourth in red. Scanning the room further, my eyes were drawn to the blackboard at the head of the space, on it in huge and fancy block letters in a precise hand, the hand of Ms. Brown, was my guess, was written: DREAM BIG! LIVE BIG! “Yes, this is a born mentor of young people,” I said in my mind, and knew that I had followed the right star.
An award-winning artist, the online gallery of Linda’s artwork can be viewed at www.gallery-llgreene.com.
A best-selling author, Linda’s latest book, Guardians and Other Angels will be available in the near future at www.Barnes & Noble.com and at www.Amazon.com.