When Brooklyn artist John Kaiser starts working on a piece, it’s not strange for him to drag out remote control cars or hula hoops. Kaiser, originally from Michigan, does installations of “fiber art” that are composed of many little pieces of recycled and gathered fibers and materials.
And he doesn’t often work alone, but rather encourages the audience to touch, affect, and even create the art.
This past school year, Webster School students were invited to get in on the fun during a collaboration between Kaiser and Art Teacher Donna Mansmann’s pre-kindergarten through second grade classes.
“They were very diligent. It was almost a meditative process for the kids.” – John Kaiser
Library Director Phil Greco said that the library is proud to provide a place for the students to display their work.
“The work is just outstanding,” said Greco. “The patrons really like it.”
Tiny hands make big pieces
Working through Arts Horizons, an arts education organization, the project gave students the experience of working on some very contemporary and professional art projects.
Mansmann said that this is the third year her class has participated in the artist-in-residency program through Arts Horizons. This year’s theme was “Get Caught Up in the Web of Art.”
“Fiber art is an interesting medium because it spans all these different things,” said Kaiser. “From woven baskets to tapestry; anything that involves weaving or assembling small pieces of things together to form a larger piece.”
Kaiser has done similar projects with students in Teaneck and River Edge and said that there’s something special about working with tinier protégés because the goal in the classroom is not just about mastering technique, it’s also about allowing yourself the freedom to experiment.
“Kids are easier to get to participate than adults,” said Kaiser. “It went really well. I enjoy working with kids.”
He began with the students by having them draw with their eyes closed, look at the drawing, and imagine what the picture could be – allowing a “mistake” to become something interesting.
“I just really enjoyed seeing them come to task both with the technique and the creativity,” said Kaiser. “They were very diligent. It was almost a meditative process for the kids.”
Creative collaboration Over the course of six weeks from October to December, Kaiser worked with students in 20 classes who weaved 22 different structures out of reeds, wire, and fabric.
Students worked in traditional and contemporary techniques while learning the history of weaving and fiber design, and its global connections.
“It was a great experience for our students to have a chance to work with John,” said Mansmann. “[They] did an awesome job at expressing their creativity through this medium.”
Mansmann also said that the project was a cross curriculum endeavor that touched on vocabulary, math, science, social studies, and history as well as art.
Inspired by others
Kaiser got his start from similar types of visiting artists and teachers that affected and encouraged him as a child.
Today, Kaiser’s own work includes remote control car drawings (in which drawings are created while driving the cars around on paper) and giant hula hoop sculptures.
Kaiser said that he’s found his type of art to be intense and meaningful because it teaches people how to look at and experience contemporary art.
He’s hoping to return to Webster next year to work on more projects with the kids – but this time he’s thinking even bigger, maybe a hanging sculpture, creating mobiles, or casting body parts.
For more information visit www.artshorizons.org or www.freestyleart.org.
Lana Rose Diaz can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.