Monthly Mentor

Natalie C. Jones (February)
Each month, a different member is the guest writer for the NAEA Monthly Mentor Blog. Natalie C. Jones is an artist, small business owner, and the director of education at the Harvey B. Gantt Center for African-American Arts + Culture. She has 10 years of experience working as an art teacher and teaching artist throughout the east coast and the Midwest. Click "GO" to read her full bio.



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Saturday 12.27.14


"If I could turn back time, if I could find a way," Cher sings with a conviction about having the power to change the past. My husband and I are doing just that. We have travelled 5,000 miles to hike the Napali Coast one more time, say our vows one more time, and enjoy the beauty of Kauai one more time since 1999. All with a new perspective and amazing dreams. December, for art educators and many, marks the time to rework, rethink, and refresh what they have practiced in the past with a confident brush to repaint the future. Will the future hold new lessons, new viewpoints, new methods, new media, new? We owe it to our students to "find a way" to prepare effective learning opportunities for them. Attending the National Art Education Association National Convention or your state conference is an awesome way to re-ignite your teaching skills. This past October I presented at the Wisconsin Art Education Association Conference, Summit Artists+ Public Art= Art is Long, Life is Brief (pictured below), and will present at the NAEA National Convention, so please join me in finding a way.

All-School Summit Nature and Fitness Trail Mosaic Labyrinth

Summit Librarian, Alyssa, teaches all students about other Little Free Libraries throughout the world...
 Collaborative Art and Musix Wassily Kandinsky Inspired Mural

-Jill La Grange

Thursday 12.18.14


We pulled up in front of an old Texaco station, painted white, gas pumps removed, and a cantilevered overhang, much needed in the winter storm tonight. Without being asked we blurted out, chocolate, mint chocolate chip, banana, strawberry, and black cherry, my mom always ordered the same. Through the window and bright, blinking, illuminated business signs we watched as each scoop was perfectly formed, placed perched on an ice cream cone and gently secured to a cardboard tray. My father appeared with a huge grin next to my mother’s window, she swiftly cranked down the window of the 1969 white Pontiac station wagon.  First placing her cone on the open glove box door, and then passing each cone to the back.  One by one, all of our hands became clenched with napkins, our tongues catching all the drips and bliss.

You can imagine my delight when I realized my memories aligned with artist, Wayne Thiebaud (CBS Sunday Morning). His art depicts the array of food served at picnics of his childhood and his memories as a restaurant employee. His work brings smiles to my face and smiles to the faces of my students. What better way to get students excited about art and explore how to read images and understand the meanings carried by objects, learn that throughout history experiences are recorded in a variety of visual forms, including fine art, folk art, designed objects, movies, television, and multimedia images, that document their time and heritage, and reflect upon the nature of art and design and meaning in art and culture.  

Project description by works of art
Ice Cream Sundaes by First Grade

Logan's ice cream sundae

My first grade students were inspired by the work of Wayne Thiebaud and created their own ice cream sundaes. Utilizing drawing skills, oil pastels and their own memories of favorite toppings.  Gummy Bears, ice cream flavors, sprinkles, caramel topping, chocolate topping, maraschino cherries were discussed in detail and stories of their own trips to the local ice cream shop. We displayed their work and to create more memories and inform our parents, grandparents and friends of the value of art we celebrated with an Ice Cream Sundae with a Wayne Thiebaud Spirit Exhibit and Ice Cream Social following our first grade holiday program. I wonder (know), when my students are all grown-up too, they will have a story to tell, one filled with joy, art and ice cream. Bliss!

Works of art displayed for exhibit

Parents preparing a sundae for their child; Palette of toppings for Ice Cream Social

Parents and grandparents view works of art

Holiday Program prior to Ice Cream Sundae with a Wayne Thiebaud Spirit

-Jill La Grange

Wednesday 12.10.14


Good Chaos, the day of an art teacher. A before school meeting, an all-school assembly, kindergarten-fourth grade classes, taught several modified lessons to accommodate special education students, a Parent Teacher Meeting (P.T.A), a letter to the Milwaukee Art Museum to arrange visiting artists, made rodeo hats for the holiday program, loaded the kiln, prepared clay for a project, uploaded art to Artsonia and of course write this blog post. I believe all of us would agree this is a typical day for an art educator, Good Chaos. So with all of the good chaos how do we instill within students the importance of art and offer them opportunities to aesthetically transform their own environment. Keep it simple! Three simple career transforming words of advice I received from a phenomenal physical education teacher colleague.

Keeping with the theme, keep it simple, one of my student’s parents shared an amazing idea of having our students make a Buddy Bench for our playground and she sent me this link. So during a follow-up discussion about the project she offered to secure wood, a carpenter, paint to create the bench and to also approve the project with the principal! By simply collaborating and welcoming project ideas from parents, our students will benefit and large scale community projects will be more doable.

Buddy Bench being delivered by carpenter

Buddy Bench in process

Buddy Bench Project details:
* Idea originated in the United States by a second grade student named Christian
* Christian’s father explained to him that Buddy Benches are in Germany
* Buddy benches are for fostering friendships

Summit Artists use their ARTISTIC FLAIR to create their own Buddy Bench!
* Create maquettes
* Entire school votes on the best designs
* Top 12 designs of 16 are selected
* Each side, back splat, seat are designed by different students and combined to create one bench
* Design is transferred to wood by students
* Carpenter cuts wood and assembles
* Parents, students and teachers are invited paint Buddy Bench during Open House
* Art club completes Buddy Benches
* Funded by P.T.A.

Buddy Bench Maquette

Buddy Bench Maquette-4-in.x 6-in.

Buddy Bench Project Essential Ideas
* Artists can transform the environment aesthetically to reflect the interests and values of its inhabitants
* The quality of human life is affected by environmental and cultural interdependencies
* Involvement in art develops aesthetic awareness which can improve the quality of life
* Creative behavior involves divergent thinking, problem solving, and extension of the imagination as evidenced in both the general learning process and observable behaviors

Left: Students entangled with their work of art | Right: Students painting Buddy Bench

Last week was the unveiling of the Buddy Benches, so during our all-school morning meeting time each classroom teacher discussed with their students how the Buddy Bench is a place to meet a friend during recess. Samuel, a shy kindergarten student whispered in my ear at the start of art class (good chaos) on Friday, “Ms. La Grange, thank you for the Buddy Bench, I found a new friend!”

Buddy Bench Ready for Creating New Friendships

-Jill La Grange