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Young at Art

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From left, Declan Nolan, Henry Morisette, Liam Javier-Duval and Arlo Barrington check out Declan and Liam’s light-up papier mache frisbee. Photo by Maria Arsenlis.

Six-year-old Rosemary Doyle is planning her Halloween costume. She’s decided to be an “ice cream cone unicorn.” 

Before beginning, she drew a picture of herself in costume, wearing a cone-shaped skirt with a decorative horn perched on top of her head. Rosemary and her friends are gathered at the Wilder Art Studio, which offers a variety of after-school classes in Montpelier. Some, such as the circuits class, focus on science but others, like the Halloween costume class, are about creating art. Maria Arsenlis and Sofia Frilund established the Wilder Arts Studio in a former carriage house on East State Street. 

Within the studio a woodcraft shop can be seen off to the side and, in the main room, a wall of makerspace shelves are filled with tubs of recycled materials including yarn, corks, fabric pieces, plastic lids, artificial flowers and many, many jars of colored beads. Walking paths decorated with elf-size wooden villages meander behind the building and classes are held on the grounds at long tables under a tent. 

Families who sign up for programs know their children will be met at Union Elementary School and then troop up to the studio on East State Street escorted by Wilder staff. The studio also offers a variety of sessions for middle schoolers as well as special events, such as a cartoon class to be led by Dan Abdo on Oct. 11. 

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Aside from an occasional piano lesson or dance class, after-school care was not part of a middle class childhood for most baby boomers. You came home, changed into play clothes (another forgotten ritual), and went “out.” Aside from having to show up for dinner, your time was your own. A favorite pastime in some neighborhoods was exploring houses under construction after the workmen had left. This resulted in occasional broken limbs, also viewed as part of a normal childhood.

Then came the 1960s and women began to enter (or re-enter) the workforce, many out of economic necessity, others by inclination. A few after-school programs were already in place. Settlement houses had been offering enrichment classes for inner-city children since the late 1800s. Wealthy families might have access to nannies, and grandmothers were available in a pinch, but as the decades passed, more women were working outside the home, the grandparents began migrating to Boca Raton, and many young children walked home with latchkey necklaces. 

After-school programs sprang up as parents looked for safer spaces. 

Schools began to establish “after care,” which offered a variety of experiences, and private businesses also stepped in to fill a gap.

In 2021, Montpelier families will find all kinds of after-school options although waiting lists are not uncommon. Several specialize in art-centered experiences. Across town from the Wilder Studio, children at the T.W. Wood Gallery and Arts Center spread out on the grass as they work with their teacher on handmade journals. 

Six-year-old Zoe Bromley explains how her cover was made. “I painted it and then when it was dry, I very gently brushed water over it.” She’s now sprinkling bits of earth over the painted cover “to see what kind of texture I can make.” 

On the other side of the grounds, teacher Kevin Marlier surveys a wiggly group sitting on a stone wall and holding clipboards. Marlier’s voice booms out, “Ladies and gentlemen, welcome to Draw Off, the game show where artists are given ridiculous prompts to draw in three minutes. I am your host, Mr. Marlier.” His prompt: “Draw a mouse, chasing a cat, chasing a dog.” About a dozen children begin drawing furiously, their pencils flying over the paper. After three minutes, the group begins sharing and then dissolves into laughter. 

In addition to after-school programs, the gallery offers adult art classes, art exhibitions, summer camps, and houses the Monteverdi Music School as well as a permanent display from the works of Thomas Waterman Wood (1823–1903). Wood was a native Montpelier artist who donated many of his own paintings as well as those of contemporaries so that Montpelier might have its own art museum. 

After-school teachers greet their students after a long day in the classroom, and they know that pacing has to be a priority. Sessions begin with a snack, and opportunities for free play are always available. If children are to get the most out of their experiences, they need to feel relaxed and comfortable. 

Still, some boomer grandparents bemoan the necessity of after-school programs. “We had so much freedom when we were little,” they’ll tell you. But there may be others who find themselves envying these young artists giggling with their friends on a fall afternoon as they create art together.

Mary Cole Mello is on the staff of the Wilder Arts Studio.