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Durham students and staff recreate themselves

Kids study the famous Southern artist and then try out his techniques
by: Barbara Sherman, CAPTIVATING KINDERGARTNERS — Durham Elementary kindergartners standing in front of the figures they created to look like themselves are (from left) Orion Mullen Jones, Carmen Luna, Claire Minor, Kaden Eaton and Joshua Bowen.

TIGARD - In January, everyone at Durham Elementary went 'green' as students studied artist and printmaker Jonathan Green for an Art Literacy project.

Jonathan Green was born in 1955 and raised in the small Gullah community of Gardens Corner, S.C., where he was taught about his people and their traditions and beliefs.

Raised in the 1960s, Green learned that about 250,000 African-Americans known as Gullahs live in that area and trace their ancestry to Angola in Africa. After leaving South Carolina to study art, he returned to create artistic visions from his childhood.

Durham students learned all about Green, and then they and all the staff and administrators created 'paper dolls' to resemble themselves, which were on display all over the school.

People were advised to use the color of crayon that most closely resembled their skin color and then create 'colorful' clothing. They were asked to use colored paper that matched their hair color, cut it into their hair style and glue it on the form, according to Becki Pedersen, who is Durham's Art Literacy co-coordinator along with Kathy Mier.

'He created paintings of his childhood memories of his people and community.' Pedersen said. 'They were kept in segregated communities, and he wanted to break down the barriers. It made him stronger.

'As a child, he remembered that people wouldn't look you in the face, so his paintings don't have faces. Here at Durham, we wanted to acknowledge the whole school community, so everyone created a figure.'

In Jackie Nelson's kindergarten class, everyone created their own favorite outfit, while in other classes, 'some even changed their hair color,' Pedersen said.

'The staff got really creative. One second-grader put on a belly-button ring. Some of the teachers had yarn hair.'