"Now," said the principal, Charlotte Chaken, "I know we will take beautiful care of this culpture in our new plaza," and she beamed at all the fresh flowery faces on the floor, "because otherwise I will haunt you."
Complex-traffic patterns followed. The fourth grade and the chorus stayed to rehearse for the great dedication program today, but the others left in casual rhythmical strings of humanity, criss-crossing like bumper cars at the fair, only not bumping, and one girl guarded her resonating bells from bypassers who thought they might as well go bonk-bonk as they strolled past.
Chakan said it was utterly necessary to seethe gym, if one was to get the full picture of what the dedication was about, and sure enough, the visitor is hard put to say the last time he saw a gym painted chartreuse and orange with perforated walls decorated by huge outline human figures in various exertions.
"They tried to paint the ceiling black," she said, still shocked in retrospect at the grossness of some people's taste, "and said it would make the whole ceiling and metal gridwork disappear. I said why make it disappear I like it.Besides they wanted to paint the big conduits red. Red against black. Well, I said that black would just come right down on top of me. At last, thay agreed with me."
"That is the usual case," said a teacher who was standing nearby.
"This building is 25 years old," said the principal who ignored all side fire, "and you would not believe how parents and community - because a lot of then don't have children here at all - help out. I'd say a good $100,000 of taxpayer money has been saved over the years. (About 200 parents work as volunteers.) Someone said please do something about the ugly front of the school, so you notice that brick planter box with the sophora tree' - scholar tree' - and the adorable sculpture by Elaine Pear Cohen" - all provided with money raised by adults in the community.
"Oh, don't call it adorable," said the sculptor, who had mixed up a lot of hydraulic cement to grout a few paws in a last-minute touchup. "Adorable and cute are two words that make me cringe."
"I think it's very cute indeed," said a man.
"And I think it's adorable," said the principal, "but you must tell me a better word to use. I didn't mean anything offensive."
"Of course you didn't," said Cohen, who had given up the idea of throwing the wet cement in the man's face, "and it's dumb of me to say what I did. But I would like it better if you said it is well-designed, or brisk or well-realized or something like that."
"The first thing I had wanted it to be," said the principal, "was a sculpture tha t said HI. (She pronounced "Hi" like a locomotive engineer greeting three miles of buddies on the Cannonball Special through Indiana. Something that said this school is a happy place and a kid is welcome here. And I think it does that."
The school band and chorus were going great gun in the auditorium and some teachers were wiping off the 200 framed and screwed-in prints along the corridors. These are reproductions of paintings by Hogarth, Fragonard, Brueghel, Sam Gilliam, Moris Louis, Millet, Modigliani and so on. "I know if I don't get them clean (children have greasy paws and a framed picture is the ultimate magnet to them) then Charlotte will be up all night doing it herself," said a teacher.
The phone rang from time to time. Everybody had to talk to the principal about something. She managed, nevertheless, to show a visitor the kitchen, sewing room, library, TV room, art center and where the greenhouse and weather station will be.
Making tour rounds with her was Ruth Straus Gainer, an arts specialist who goes to various schools to talk with art teachers, and who wrote "Art, Another Language for Learning," with Cohen the sculptor.
In her book, Cohen abounds with examples of children who were apathetic or worse, but who turned into regular little postive dynamos when touched by art.
No crime, she clearly believes, is so great as squelching a child's delight in exploring color and shape. And emotion, in art. She herself grew up in Brooklyn and was a late bloomer, she reckons.
For years she taught and made art also, but it took years before she was able to say to herself, "I am an artist."
Why should a child color a prepared outline? The very thought makes Cohen bristle. Art should say how the artist feels and think, and how he rejoices in God's pots of paint. (Thus, at Wheaton Woods, you may see a White leopard with ultramarine spots, and a black cat with orange background smelling a castellated purple tulip.
These are not thing you see on every street corner, though (if one were allowed in) in a kid's heart.
The painting contractor for the school. H. Vinocur, was introduced as the man who did the graphics all over the place. At first, when he learned the complicated color schemes of the rooms and halls, "I wanted to wring her neck," he said modestly.
"But then I got to thinking. I used to do lettering, why shouldn't I do it myself instead of just hiring somebody else to do it?" One thing led to another and the next thing you know he was up on the gym walls painting figures.
Cohen in her book keeps saying art can make all the difference in a life. tr for ad 9
"Now with these little kids hanging around your cute dinosaur or well designed ostrich - is this one of those days you have spoken of in the past," one of those days you think art is pretty great stuff?'
She looked up from her pot of dement and wiped a little out of her red hair and said.