Discovering life's rich tapestry

13th July 2007 at 01:00
From a smiling dog to textured letters, sighted and blind pupils have been inspired to create by visits to Holyrood Park

ALL THE elaborate animals in 10-year-old Lee Hill's pencil drawing are smiling. Even the magpie, drawn from memory from his walk through Holyrood Park the previous day, has a grin. "I'm going to draw another dog," he whispers to his page. His magpie has already been added to a larger panel, which he and his classmates will turn into a tapestry before the end of their project and he is hoping his dog will feature too. Asked if his dog will be smiling, he nods. The other children, P5 pupils from Abbeyhill Primary near Holyrood Park with Arthur's Seat towering over Edinburgh are more vocal in discussing what they have seen, remembering the types of stone used in the ancient buildings and the colours of the plants. Ten-year-old Sana Hussain's drawing of a fox has joined Lee's magpie on the larger panel being co ordinated by Barbara Middleton, artist-in-residence at Holyrood Park. Since the beginning of June, Ms Middleton has been working with schools and community groups to develop art projects based on the wonders of the park. For 17 weeks, participating schools will receive five free sessions: two school visits, two at the education centre and one exploring the landscape of the park, courtesy of Historic Scotland and Scottish Natural Heritage, who are funding the programme. It began with a meeting between the teachers and Ms Middleton to decide the focus of the project. The teachers at Abbeyhill decided to link their project to the Middle Ages unit they were finishing off in time for summer. So Ms Middleton came up with the idea of a story about time travel, which the children would tell in pictures. Part of the story involves a monk. "When they came on the park visit, it was a gorgeously sunny day and we went to St Anthony's Chapel. We looked at the colours and the textures of everything, even down to discussing what stone was used to build the chapel," says Ms Middleton. "When we got there, one of the rangers had dressed up in a monk's habit. The park rangers are fabulous. Some of the children were a bit apprehensive, but they were able to question the monk about the park as if he really was a monk and they loved that." The children returned to the park the following day, this time to the education centre, where they began to design tapestries showing two scenes from their story: Meeting the Monk and St Anthony's Chapel. "We decided to create tapestries because the children had seen some at Stirling Castle, which they visited as part of their Middle Ages topic," says Janet MacDougall, a P5 teacher. "It has been great being involved. I've been introduced to techniques I'd never have thought to use on my own." Nearby Preston Street Primary has been doing its own project, to tie in with their unit on invertebrates. Following conversations between Ms Middleton and the teachers, it was decided they would focus on minibeasts. "We took them to the Wells of Wearie with nets and trays, so that they could go pond dipping," says Ms Middleton. "We then brought them back and got them to draw the creatures. Then we got the pupils to shut their eyes and go dipping again in their imagination. They came up with some wonderful creations; so colourful and imaginative. It is important to have an injection of humour in what we do." As part of their project, the Preston Street pupils investigated the life cycle of a dragonfly, beginning with pencil drawings before moving on to willow and tissue sculptures. The Royal School for the Blind in Edinburgh has also taken advantage of Ms Middleton's residency. On their trip to the park, pupils were taken to the top of the hill and on to Dunsapie Crags, where they were encouraged to feel textures, and for those with some sight, the colours and light of the area. These pupils have since been working on tapestry letters, using different textures of fabric in the rich browns, golds, oranges and purples of the hill to spell out Holyrood Park. The tapestry will be a central part of an exhibition planned for late August, towards the end of Ms Middleton's residency. "We plan to display all the work of the pupils and community groups that I've worked with over the 17 weeks," she says. "It will be remarkable."

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