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Artist influences children with repurposed clay

Creativity teaches kids problem-solving skills

POSTED: June 13, 2014 1:00 a.m.

Mary Frances Hull knows how life-altering a little encouragement from adults can be for a child.

When the resident artist at Quinlan Visual Arts Center in Gainesville was 7 years old she sold her first work of art to her neighbors who owned a horse farm.

“I used to ride this big, white horse,” Hull said. “I drew it on cardboard with a new set of oil pastels, this picture of a horse. The owners bought it from me for like a dollar or something, but to a 7-year-old I was like ‘Woo hoo.’ They hung it in their tack room. I don’t think I ever thought about being anything else after that. I was like ‘This is it. I’ll muck out your stalls, but I am an artist.’ ... Maybe if that hadn’t happened I’d be something else. But it only takes one thing for somebody to walk on one road and never leave it.”

Hull teaches art classes at Quinlan and owns Pen Dragon Fine Art inside the center. She often repurposes discarded materials in her artworks and encourages others to look at their “trash” differently.

She said the first time people repurpose something is creatively empowering.

“Once you do the first thing, you’re so psyched that you made it,” Hull said. “You’re like ‘Oh my God, look at this thing that was so junky and now it’s something I want to use.’ Then they start looking at things like ‘OK, I did this, what else can I do?’ It’s not hard and it doesn’t take a master artist intellect to do it. It’s just a way of forming an appreciation for things.”

Hull said some of the reasons she enjoys repurposing in her art is because she believes it helps people learn to problem solve, builds confidence and protects the environment by recycling.

She recently taught a group of children from the Boys and Girls Clubs of Hall County a lesson in molding clay. The children used clay recycled from discarded material from the center’s pottery class.

Steven Mickens, chief professional officer with the Boys & Girls Clubs of Hall County, said art is one of the clubs five core programs.

“We think (art) is vital for tapping into a kid’s strength and development,” Mickens said.

Children enrolled in the club’s summer camp program are given more opportunities to dive deeper into areas of interest than during the school year.

By getting children involved in extracurricular activities and exposing them to new hobbies, children often perform better in school and are more interested in their education, Mickens said.

“Everything (in school) is geared around being able to pass a test or an exam,” Mickens said. “Creativity and innovation has really gone out the window. We feel that it is vitally important to give kids the opportunity to not just learn something rigid and to use their minds and being innovative.”

Mickens said he believes giving children the opportunity to express themselves through art and learn how to use the world around them to express themselves is a way “we can help kids tap into some of the areas they may have an interest in.”

Regardless of the child’s interests, Hull said she thinks it’s important for adults close to the children who aren’t necessarily family members, teachers, neighbors and coaches to recognize and encourage children to follow their interests and see where it takes them.

“If you see a kid really trying, let them know you noticed,” Hull said. “You don’t know, you might be that one person who changes their whole life. They could end up being an engineer or a rocket scientist because the rocket they were building in the back yard out of toilet paper rolls was ‘Cool looking.’”


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