My Artist in Residency at St Joseph Specialist School
St Josephs is a co educational residential and day school for complex and severe learning difficulties, many of whom are on the autistic spectrum. During the school year I created work with the students and staff along with my own work. This included the three sculptures of St Joseph, St George and St Patrick which will hang in the school chapel.
I have developed my techniques for each of the students needs, for example whilst one child loved using wallpaper paste, another was not very happy about 'getting sticky!' Young people on the autistic spectrum are known for having an uncompromising interest in certain areas. As an artist in residence I have been able to support them in their interests following favourite themes in their work. With one student we embarked on 'Spiro' a small dragon which had a lot of detail and took weeks of patience to finish. We then created 'Leather Head', the alligators head which was also very detailed featuring hand painted and printed paper scales meticulously applied by the student.
Papermaché is a very sensory art form which has met the needs of some of St Josephs non verbal students. At times I have found this challenging but on the whole very rewarding. One particular student who only communicates using a form of sign language called Makaton (which I cannot do!) I was told may not sit still for long enough to engage but to everyones surprise he loved it! Working the wallpaper paste into the paper with a paintbrush, tearing strips and smoothing them on; He sat for a full hour with me every week making his dog and choosing where each spot would go.
My studio was situated in the centre of the school with big picture windows where students and staff could see me working and sometimes come in for a chat. As the sculptures were finished they would be placed on the window sills for all to see. I soon realised that the staff were enjoying making sculptures as much as the children so i suggested a some staff training might be a good idea. The staff could all learn a new skill whilst investing in some much needed creative mindfulness after a busy day at school. We managed to squeeze in three 35 minute session of speedy dog making, everyone had great fun and we now have a whole pack of long legged dogs!
The fruits of mine and the students labour over the last year ' Saints, Dragons and other Creatures' were exhibited at the Cranleigh arts centre, we had many visitors and it was very well received. I have enjoyed my year at St Josephs and have learnt a lot in this lovely school with a very caring environment. I will miss all of the different characters of both students and staff very much! Lets hope they invite me back in the future to do a workshop.... !