Chair Camp Sets Students’ Imaginations Free

Art teacher Tiffany Snyder helps Perla Cervantes complete her chair

As she delicately decorated a tiny chair with flowers and a yellow star, Yarlis Perez thought about the kind of art she was creating.

“I’m going to make it like nature,” the Grand Rapids fifth-grader said. “I think nature is good. It gives animals life, and animals are cute.”

She was making her mini-chair in the lobby of the Grand Rapids Public Museum, along with about 200 other elementary students. They were taking part in Chair Camp, an annual event managed by the museum in conjunction with ArtPrize and its Education Days outreach programs.

Jose Curiel’s chair included a symbol of the legendary illuminati society
Jose Curiel’s chair included a symbol of the legendary illuminati society

The chair-making crowd included about 80 of Yarlis’ school mates from Cesar E. Chavez Elementary School, as well as students from Coit Creative Arts Academy. As ArtPrize partner schools, they’re among more than 16,000 students expected to receive free programs through Education Days, which provides transportation grants and activities through institutions like the museum.

Chavez fourth- and fifth-graders trooped into the museum toting bags of colored pencils and sketchbooks provided by Amway; other Chavez students took part in activities at the Cook Arts Center, and all families received bus passes to ArtPrize. All of it provided a way for students to go beyond their usual community and tap into their inner creativity, said Chavez art teacher Tiffany Snyder.

“I want them to realize that there’s endless opportunities of what they can create,” Snyder said. “It doesn’t have to be drawings and paintings. I want them to have problem-solving skills that they can apply to anything.”

A Chair is Not Just a Chair

At Chair Camp, students applied their skills to die-cut paper and recycled materials to be fashioned into fanciful chairs. The camp was led by Carla Hartman, the granddaughter of Charles and Ray Eames, pioneer designers of plywood chairs manufactured by Herman Miller. Based in Denver and director of education at the Eames Office, Hartman has presented her program to students around the world, including close to 9,000 elementary through high school students at ArtPrize for five years.

Making chairs enablesstudents to transform something taken for granted into an expression of design and personality, Hartman said as she snapped pictures of their creations.

“It frees the kids up to see chairs as more than this little thing they’re sitting on,” said Hartman, noting chairs have backs, arms and legs like people. “It expands their perception … and increases their awareness about what was a mundane thing, and that actually can be an amazing thing. I want them to be empowered to realize they too can transform their world.”

Jose Escobedo proudly shows off his “helicopter chair” with fifth-grade teacher Sung Pak
Jose Escobedo proudly shows off his “helicopter chair” with fifth-grade teacher Sung Pak

Jose Escobedo hit on his transformation right away. “I’m making a helicopter chair!” he announced as he waded into a table full of crayons, markers, tape and glue. He made a rectangular chair topped with crisscrossing sticks, then with a “Voila!” gave it a twirl.

Jose Curiel’s chair showed fire and water, a yin yang symbol and a city skyline. He said he wanted viewers to see “that I know lots of stuff. I can be creative.”

Silvana Mendez said art is her favorite thing to do. “When I go to sleep, I imagine what to draw about.”

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Charles Honey
Charles Honey is a freelance writer and former columnist for The Grand Rapids Press/ MLive.com. As a reporter for The Press from 1985 to 2009, his beats included Grand Rapids Public Schools, local colleges and education issues. Honey served as editor of The Press’ award-winning Religion section for 15 years. His freelance articles have appeared in Christianity Today magazine and the Aquinas College alumni magazine. Read Charles' full bio.

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