Ask any student at Montpelier’s Union Elementary School who Mrs. Kane is and they may answer, “She’s one of the specials.” At UES, the “special teachers” (officially the Interactive Arts Team) are those who teach P.E., music, library, or, in Kristina Kane’s case, art. In this year of COVID, they are partnering with classroom teachers to teach academic subjects in person using the pod model. In addition, these teachers create their own virtual lessons for all UES students.
Not every family can afford to buy art supplies, so Kane began by boxing up art supplies. “Equity is important,” she says, “So I sent home sets of colored pencils, crayons, and pastels to everyone.” Then she began to plan for the 2020–2021 school year. “Teaching virtually is challenging, but it gives you an opportunity to do something new, something fresh.”
Her theme for art this year is “drawing inspiration.” “I wanted to introduce a diverse group of contemporary artists. Bisa Butler is one. This African-American woman sees herself as a storyteller. Her quilts portray everyday people whose work is often overlooked and who have remained nameless in history.” Butler’s art reminds us that we may know the names of those who have lived in the White House but not the names of the slaves who built it.
Kane’s art students will also be learning about Yayoi Kasuma from Japan, Romero Britto from Brazil, who now works in Miami, and Wolf Khan, who has been called the Georgia O’Keefe of Vermont. She helps her students connect with each artist, “We talk about what inspired them and then I ask the children to reflect on what inspires their own work.”
Her projects are often designed to help students appreciate that they’re part of a community and can contribute to it. Before COVID, she organized the annual “lantern parades” each February. Using sustainable materials including willow and tissue paper, children created lanterns in art class under the guidance of visiting artist Gowri Savoor. On the night of the parade, they carried their lanterns through the streets, often accompanied by music from groups such as the samba band, Sambatucada.
This year UES children are once again working with Montpelier’s famous Valentine Phantom to create “healing hearts.” Kane notes, “My students really want to help people who might be feeling sad or down. It’s satisfying to know you can do this.”
Montpelier Alive has also reached out to Kane, inviting UES to participate in the Tumbllng Blocks Quilt Project. The finished product will be a paper quilt created by the community and which will be displayed on the walls of Montpelier’s Transit Center.
Kane is following in the footsteps of her mother, also an art teacher. “Because of my mother, art has always been a joyful part of my life, a way to connect with her and other people I care about.” After graduating from Wheaton College in Massachusetts, Kane went on to receive her art training at the Museum of Fine Arts School in Boston.
Now a mother herself, Kane shares her love of art with her two-year-old daughter, who’s an enthusiastic painter of watercolor abstracts. Kane, on the other hand, is drawn to creating landscapes. “It’s a way to connect with nature, to see things you may have never seen before.”
Kane knows how important art can be during a time of crisis. “Research shows that art can heal. The playful effects of art can be a way for children to process their feelings and lead to a more healthy outlook.”
What would Mrs. Kane say to those who get caught up in the test score frenzy and seek to throw out art lessons to allow more time for other subjects? “Art is a core part of our humanity and fosters creativity, problem solving, self expression, and empathy, skills we need now more than ever. I hope the joy of art will be something my children will know throughout their lives.”