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Inspiring gander at past masters

Aberdeen primary pupils have visited the local art gallery - some for the first time - and been inspired to create their own masterpieces, says Jean McLeish

A bit of a wild goose chase at Aberdeen Art Gallery has produced some exuberant artwork from city pupils, which goes on show next week.

The gallery was one of six in the UK and the only one in Scotland invited to take part in the Great Art Quest, a project organised by the Prince of Wales Arts and Kids Foundation in collaboration with Cartoon Network.

The venture was designed to introduce children to works of art in gallery settings and to bring masterpieces to life with the help of storytellers and artists.

Five Aberdeen schools took part: Smithfield, Causewayend and Middlefield primaries and two special schools, Marlpool and Hazelwood.

The painting To Pastures New, by one of the Glasgow Boys, Sir James Guthrie, was used to inspire the pupils, along with the Henry Moore bronze sculpture of a seated woman, Figure on Steps.

The popular Guthrie painting shows a young girl herding geese, and visual artist Lynne Strachan and poet and storyteller Margot Henderson agreed a goose chase was a good starting point for the pupils' exploration of the gallery.

Ms Henderson's narrative brought the goose girl and Moore's seated woman to life, with the woman wandering through the gallery at night and encountering the girl, whose geese have gone missing.

The pupils then explored other works in the gallery, hunting for the missing geese, and then used the idea of the geese escaping into other paintings for their own drawings and paintings.

"What was nice was that they were looking at real art but they were also bringing something into it. So they'd take a detail of a painting and maybe put a goose in a basket or a sock or a barge. They loved doing that," Ms Henderson says.

"I think this really helps them see that art is about play and creativity and there's no right and no wrong. I emphasised that: the beauty of art is you can't get it wrong, so it really frees them up to respond to it.

"I think children are a lot freer about that. It's often the adults or teachers I work with who come in and think 'I need to look at the thing on the wall' and 'What's that about?' This work helps them respond much more individually and creatively."

Ms Strachan has been working with the pupils on their art and they are being encouraged to bring friends and family to see their work on display in the gallery during national Arts and Kids Week (October 21-29).

"It was a very effective project and the kids seemed to be quite inspired,"

says Ms Strachan. "Maybe that was because they got into the story and got excited being in a new environment."

A significant number of the children had never been in an art gallery before and Ms Henderson says that once they have been, they often want to come again with their parents, many of whom have never visited a gallery either.

More than 100 pupils took part in the project, mostly from P5 and P6, and several teenagers from the two special schools.

Ms Strachan worked with the pupils in the art gallery and studio and in their classrooms, recording them as they read elements of the story which Ms Henderson created and developing a short animation of their work. The children and their families are being invited to a special showing at the end of the exhibition.

Causewayend P7 pupil Zak Munro was a first-time visitor to Aberdeen Art Gallery. "I'd go back. It was fun," he says.

Another Causewayend pupil, Lillian Nyssen in P6, agrees. "It's a nice place," she says.

"And I like the way that artists had this feeling about what they were going to paint. No one told them what to paint; they just had a feeling."

Artist Rosy Long is an art teacher at Marlpool and Hazelwood schools. She says some of the pupils are autistic and describes the work they produced for the project as "quite amazing".

"One wee girl, who was in a wheelchair, could sing songs about the geese and she got involved in that way.

"It has been a new experience for them going to Aberdeen Art Gallery. A lot of them did not know what an art gallery was."

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