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Budding artists take a trip to Wonderland

An arts council grant and gifted teachers are helping pupils reap the benefit of art for art's sake, reports Miranda Fettes.

Beads, feathers, wire mesh, metal and all manner of other materials have been collected and turned into body adornments by the pupils of Coatbridge High.

Thanks to a Scottish Arts Council grant, Coatbridge High and its associated primary, Townhead, have been running a joint craft residency three days a week over two terms and the spectacular results go on show today.

Jewellery designer Sarah Keay is the resident craft artist at the North Lanarkshire secondary school, where one boy has made a shoulder piece inspired by gladiatorial armour and another has made gauntlets. There are also hand pieces, tiaras, a headdress and a choker. Another class has designed footwear: a giant golden slipper with a curled toe gleams on a shelf at the back of the art classroom.

Fashion designer Annette Reilly is the resident craft worker at Townhead Primary, where the whole school (103 pupils) has become involved in the project.

"I chose the theme of Alice in Wonderland because I thought the school could become involved at all levels," says Miss Reilly. "The kids have been really enthusiastic."

Her P7 class, the Mad Hatters, have made top hats from papier mache decorated with felt.

"They started with a balloon, put cardboard around the outside, made the rim, papier mached it all, then burst the balloon. They designed and made them in small groups and covered them in felt.

"We incorporated co-operative learning: they learn better as they discuss it in their group."

P7 pupil Rachel Toall says: "I prefer working with Miss Reilly because she lets you experiment and make up your own design."

The P6P7 children have been making grand Ascot-style hats, with peacock and flamingo feathers, while the P4P5 pupils have made felted animal masks.

The P2P3 class has been making teapots and teacups out of balloons and papier mache. "It's pink round it and it's purple in the inside," says Hannah Cruikshanks of her own teapot. "I put beads in it and I painted love hearts on it."

The lower school children are working on hand-woven wall hangings and a patchwork tablecloth made from felt and other materials, while felt birds, butterflies and crowns adorned with sequins and feathers are being created in the nursery.

Miss Reilly's after-school club has been making costumes, hats and bags.

She has also given staff development in silk painting.

"The place is buzzing," says Townhead Primary's headteacher, Shona Williams.

"We're linking it in with our Determined to Succeed enterprise. The children are going to have an art exhibition on March 3 and a fashion show on March 10, where they will parade what they've made.

"The project has helped a lot in terms of raising confidence. All children can achieve through the expressive arts and that has a positive impact on the rest of the curriculum."

At Coatbridge High, the project has involved four S3 Standard grade art and design classes, one S4 class and 14 Higher pupils.

"It's been a fantastic project, for both the pupils and teachers," says Gordon Cowie, principal teacher of art and design. "They have been involved in shoe and textile design and body adornment."

Miss Keay describes body adornment as "pieces of unconventional jewellery".

The pupils have been learning a lot of jewellery and millinery techniques.

Other pupils have been learning various screen printing and digital printing techniques, while Higher pupils have made headdresses, a lampshade and knitted wire evening bags covered with silk and felt.

Lisa Hull, of S3, has been busy making a "big hand piece" with copper mesh woven through wire with multicoloured beads.

Her classmate Jennifer McIntyre was finishing off a choker with goose feathers tipped with bright pink fantasy film.

Zara Weir has been creating a half-mask with knitted green wire to hook over her ear. She has used angelina (polyester and metallic fibres spun together) over gum paper and green and blue ink for the mask and has stuck a silver mesh eye piece on top, decorated with dozens of neoprene and copper mesh fish and curled wire dipped in fantasy film.

All the finished work will be displayed in cases on the groundfloor of the school.

"In an area of great deprivation like North Lanarkshire, to extend the educational experience of young people is very important," says Christine Pollock, the depute director of education at North Lanarkshire Council.

"It has been great for the teachers because they are working in partnership with a working designer, so it builds their skill base as well."

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