By Eric Dickervitz [email protected]
Katherine Quinn gives students a rare perspective on creativity
Mt. Hope High School art student Nicole Cloutier stopped on a stairway during a recent field trip to admire an interesting stone formation. Noticing the change in texture of the stone’s surface, from smooth where years of rushing water rounded its edges, to rough where an artist etched Chinese symbols into the stone, she couldn’t resist the temptation to run her hands across the rock’s surface.
In the world of art, touching artists’ works is typically taboo for fear of damage. But this wasn’t a typical art gallery. And viewing the artist’s works with all the senses was not only allowed, but encouraged.
Twenty students from Mt. Hope High School were invited to the Bristol home of Katherine Quinn last Thursday, where they were given the unique opportunity to explore her home and outbuildings, which contain some of the thousands of sculptures, carvings, paintings, drawings, sketches, writings and other art forms that her late husband, Anthony Quinn, created during his lifetime.
It’s okay to touch
By inviting the students to immerse themselves in her late husband’s art, Ms. Quinn followed his philosophy that art should be enjoyed with all the senses, including touch. While viewing the collection, the students were also offered a unique view into the life of the artist, who often worked on projects from the couple’s home-based studio.
“He always wanted to encourage kids’ creativity,” Ms. Quinn said of her husband. “You can’t just donate art materials.”
During the four-hour visit, the students viewed and discussed the art objects from critical and philosophical perspectives. While casual observers are thought to spend only eight seconds viewing a work of art, the students were engaged in a much higher level, to the delight of Kerri Sloat, who teaches pottery and sculpture at Mt. Hope.
“These guys are having dialogue,” she said of the students hovered over a Quinn sculpture. “They’ve spent 15 minutes talking about the features of that one work of art.”
The students, working in groups, took notes on various pieces, commenting on such qualities as the use of color, lines, shape, mood and emotion.
“They’re learning to effectively communicate as artists,” Ms. Sloat said after witnessing the interactions.
After introducing some of Mr. Quinn’s art and film work to students as part of their classroom instruction, Ms. Sloat and fellow art teacher Christine Mullen stood in front of the sculptures they viewed in two-dimensional pictures and expanded the discussion.
“See how it engages you with (Mr. Quinn’s) use of space?” Ms. Sloat asked.
One student remarked on how different the piece appeared when viewed from various angles, an observation Ms. Sloat was pleased to hear.
Critiquing, she said, is “a way to organize your thinking and say ‘what am I looking at?’ It really builds this relationship between the art and the artist.”
Hoping to inspire students
Besides viewing Mr. Quinn’s artwork, Ms. Quinn hoped the visit would inspire the students to pursue their artistic endeavors beyond the classroom.
“All kids are artists. They’re born artists,” Ms. Quinn said.
Often, she said, people allow their creative side to be squelched by fear, or their artistic endeavors are dismissed by others.
”It’s part of what you are, no matter what you want to do. It doesn’t matter if it’s going to be your career. (Art) helps you better relate to people and emotions,” Ms. Quinn said.
Despite the overwhelming volume of works on display, students found themselves drawn to particular pieces that they connected with. Walking into one of the barns where Mr. Quinn’s work is displayed, Kelly Coccio spotted a sculpture called “The Artist and His Model.”
“That was the first thing I saw. I said ‘I love it’,” she said.
Kelly described the work as something “powerful, but also gentle.” Ms. Quinn, who often worked alongside her husband, confirmed the student’s observation, saying that many of his works explored his own spirituality.
The opportunity for the students to walk among the artwork and have a personal conversation with Ms. Quinn about the artist and art was a unique experience that Ms. Quinn hopes will inspire and motivate the students to keep art in their lives. To continue her husband’s legacy, Ms. Quinn oversees the Anthony Quinn Foundation, to provide continued opportunities for artistic growth.
“If it makes you feel good, keep doing it,” she advised. “It will make you a better person.”