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The Art Of... Sign-Making


Craftsbury students Lilian Allen and Sage Sweeney - BRETT STANCIU
  • brett stanciu
  • Craftsbury students Lilian Allen and Sage Sweeney

Want to get kids excited about art? Have them create an official sign for their school. That strategy worked one November morning at Craftsbury Elementary School. When Ceilidh Galloway-Kane invited the third and fourth grade class to brainstorm ideas for a welcome sign in the parking lot, encouraging them to think visually about their school environment, their hands shot up.

One student suggested that the sign show the woods behind the building. Others offered everything from the garden to the playground structure to the cafeteria to the swings. Galloway-Kane, director of The Art House Gallery and School, a nonprofit arts organization in Craftsbury, wrote it all down on a chalkboard.

Everyone contributed, "so everyone's little piece of the puzzle can be part of the sign," explained their teacher, Tule Fogg.

Once the board was filled, kids were charged with creating pictures based on their ideas. They got to work with colored pencils and large sheets of white paper while Galloway-Kane circulated around the room. She paused and asked one student to consider the proportions of his greenhouse drawing. Nearby, a girl illustrated a library shelf with books in rainbow colors, then added horses, cows and turtles to their spines. Another boy quietly filled his sheet with a detailed school bus, complete with students waving in the windows.

The exercise was part of a larger, community-wide endeavor. In 2015, Craftsbury engaged in a visioning project facilitated by the Vermont Council on Rural Development. It was designed to strengthen rural citizens' connections to their communities and provide resources to achieve collective goals.

That effort revealed a need for safer roads in the rural town, which has a year-round population of just over 1,000 residents. So, with a grant from the University of Vermont's Center for Rural Studies, the town commissioned The Art House to improve, and increase, the community's signage. One proposed sign depicts a horse-drawn wagon and the word "slow," to alert motorists to agricultural traffic from Sterling College's Sterling Farm.

High school students from Craftsbury Academy's wood shop will remake the roadside "Welcome to Craftsbury" signs; middle school students and senior citizens from the Craftsbury Community Care Center will be involved, as well. Pop-up classes at the Craftsbury Outdoor Center, Sterling College and The Art House will encourage community members to think of images that represent their town. Stations will also be set up at the local general store and public library so anyone can contribute ideas, establishing what Galloway-Kane describes as a state of "constant creativity."

In March, The Art House will curate a show of community artwork, some of which will be used in creating the signs.

While the goal is to create a safer environment, the project is really "about the process," Galloway-Kane stressed. The hope is that, in the end, the town will gain a deeper understanding of its community members — from first graders to senior citizens — whose perspectives aren't often included in town planning. And the signs will provide a warm welcome to locals and visitors alike.

This article was originally published in Seven Days' monthly parenting magazine, Kids VT.