Rings of new confidence

4th March 2005 at 00:00
A craftmaker-in-residence scheme has not only produced some radical pieces of jewellery, but also helped pupils understand design, Deedee Cuddihy reports

North Lanarkshire Council's first craftmaker-in-residence scheme is not over yet, but already it has been declared a "fantastic success" by virtually everyone involved.

Under the Scottish Arts Council initiative, Mhairi Currie, the arts link officer for North Lanarkshire, applied for funding to get a craftmaker into two schools. She was given the money for one and of the 10 schools that bid for a residency, St Thomas's Primary in Wishaw was chosen.

"The headteacher, Helen Crawley, was very keen. The school's development plan includes art and design and they were able to offer dedicated accommodation for the project," says Ms Currie.

A young jeweller, Suilven Plazalska, a Glasgow School of Art graduate, was picked to lead the 16-week project. She has already worked with children in Glasgow and Dumfries and Galloway. Although she did not consult the 5-14 curriculum guidelines before her interview, she was "hitting all the targets without realising it", she says.

Ms Currie came to speak to all the pupils once the school was chosen to prepare them for the project. "I did a co-operative learning exercise with them, where we talked about jewellery and discussed their views on it," she says.

"Then, it was all rings and two-finger rings and gold and silver and sapphires and the cost of everything. So it will be interesting to see if their ideas have changed when we hold another session once the project has finished."

Although Ms Plazalska's jewellery features small amounts of precious metals, most of her current designs are quite radical and made from various types of plastic tubing.

"When I first showed my work to the kids, they said: 'That's not jewellery!' But they're much more broad-minded now," she says.

Before getting down to work with the children, she organised a continuing professional development session for all the staff, where they each got to make a piece of jewellery.

"I gave them a design brief, showed them some basic techniques and introduced them to the kinds of materials I use, stuff such as plastic straws, pipe cleaners, feathers, bits of sponge and pieces of packaging.

The work they produced is on display in the school and it looks fantastic," she says.

"It was essential for them to have that opportunity, otherwise they wouldn't have known what I was doing.

"Teachers don't often get the chance to experiment and once I've gone they'll be able to continue doing design work with the children."

Ms Plazalska is in school from Mondays to Wednesdays. She spends about 80 minutes a week with each of St Thomas's nine classes and some of each day doing her own research and design.

""The whole point of a residency," she explains, "is that the children get to see how a craftmaker actually works."

She's been using the same methodology throughout the school. Everyone, from P1 to P7, has a sample book and a homework book. During each session, pupils make something for their sample book, experimenting with a range of recycled materials, such as sweetie papers, string and cable wire. The items are based on jewellery-making exercises that Ms Plazalska demonstrates and discusses with the class.

Early on, the youngest children learnt how to make do-it-yourself springs by wrapping thin wire around a felt tip pen. A few weeks later, they repeated the exercise but cut the springs into links which they then taped on to a page of their sample book to form nascent necklaces.

By mid-February, the P7s had graduated to working with copper and were making delicate marks on it using Ms Plazalska's metal working tools. They will travel into Glasgow for a jewellery exhibition at the art school and visit Ms Plazalska's workshop and the McLellan Galleries.

The 16-week project will culminate later this month with a jewellery fashion show at St Thomas's Primary, where pupils will model a selection of the pieces they have produced during the residency.

Mrs Crawley says: "The residency has been a wonderful experience for the staff and the children. It's totally different from anything we've done before. Normally you have three weeks for a project and it's all done in a rush. With this, the children have had a chance to use all sorts of materials, try things out and really learn about the design process."

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