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Elementary School Art Shows: A “Must See” Tradition

Written by Kristen Melnick.

Back in the fall of 1981, a new art teacher started in Regional School District 17.  An enigmatic, enthusiastic bundle of boundless energy was discovered in Jay Granucci.  Jay spent his first year of teaching art classes at Killingworth Elementary School.

Jay Granucci (right) and his wife Noreen

Jay Granucci (right) and his wife Noreen

Initially, he was teaching art from a mobile cart. That situation in itself held its own challenges.  He had no “passing time” in between classes, was required to cart the art supplies around from room to room, and had to build in the challenge of cleaning up the classrooms prior to the start of the next period.  As though teaching art to elementary age students “on the move” and in multiple locations wasn’t enough of a challenge, Mr. Granucci kicked off the First Annual Art Show, a tradition that still goes on today.  In 1986, he transferred to Burr Elementary School which housed the district’s only dedicated art room.  Of course, he started the Annual Art Show tradition there as well, and it thrives today.

During the mid 1980’s, Mr. Granucci’s counterpart at Haddam Elementary School, Mr. Scarpa, followed suit and incorporated the Art Show into their curriculum, making it a district-wide tradition.  The art of the HES students began to come to life as well.  Later, Jay took over as the Fine Arts Coordinator at the elementary level for several years. When the fifth and sixth grade students were moved to the Middle School in 2007, he began to split his time between Burr (3 days a week) and HES (2 days per week). Until this year, there was another art teacher sharing the duties at HES as well. Now Jay is teaching 3 days a week at HES, and two days at Burr.  Alexis Kelsey is teaching the same schedule, splitting her time between KES and Burr.  She handles the art show at KES. It’s a constantly challenging schedule, and a veritable planning nightmare, but one that no other could pull off as successfully as Jay Granucci has.

The show artwork is comprised of a full year’s lessons.  Jay has two-dimensional lessons that he teaches every year, typically during the first half of the year, such as self-portraits, still life, landscapes, and printing; wherein students create their own stamp from original art, and use it to create dynamite prints.  The second half of the year is generally spent teaching sculpture, through several types of three-dimensional art including clay (his favorite unit to teach), paper mache and other specially designed projects such as recycled art animals.  The year typically wraps up with other specialty assignments like acrylic paintings, weaving, and copper work. One of the things he incorporates into every lesson is individual expression.  “I try to have the students experiment and explore using as many different types of art supplies during their years at the elementary level, because once they leave the elementary level they may never get those experiences at the middle or high school levels again.”  Each and every piece of artwork is saved during the year to display at the shows.  After the shows, parents have a bevy of beautiful artwork to bring home and display.

Art HES circus themeRight from the beginning, the annual shows operated off of a theme, changing every year.  Jay says that he likes to choose themes that not only appeal to the students, but also give him a large assortment of ideas for projects. He says, “I felt changing the themes each year forced me to keep fresh and come up with new ideas…instead of pulling out the same old lessons year after year.” He told us about some of the more memorable themes. There was a “Disney World” themed year, where the school was divided into mini themes.  The whole main hallway was transformed into Main Street, with Victorian buildings floor to ceiling along with Christmas tree lights outlining each building. A carousel approximately 15′ in diameter with paper mache horses was set up in the cafeteria.  Other themes have been Latin America, Egypt, Jungle, Ocean, Native America, Farm, Around the World, and Asian Art.   In 1995, Jay used a Circus Theme where Burr’s cafeteria was transformed into the inside of a circus tent. Walls were completely covered with yellow and red striped mural paper. He rented a helium tank, and blew up over 500 balloons, in addition to popping popcorn for the kids.Art BES Disney

Beginning in only the art rooms and all-purpose spaces, the shows have now grown to such a size that show-goers are treated to a true gallery-like walk through of the halls and common areas of the schools.  Mr. Granucci recalls, “There were years where I transformed my art room into a total environment such as the jungle or the ocean…you would have never known it was an art room. Murals covered every bit of wall space and every student created a sculpture as part of the display.”  When he was solely at Burr, Jay had the time to plan bigger and better art shows each year. Once he had to divide his time between two schools, and two art shows, he had to “tame them down” a bit.  Though he still does the bulk of the work, he relies largely on parent volunteers to help mount and display the masterpieces.  Each piece of art is mounted onto colorful paper and labeled with the student’s name, teacher, and grade – creating a memento for years to come. Prior to the shows, throughout the entire year but largely in the early spring, behind the scenes work is done by parents and other volunteers to get each of the pieces properly mounted and sorted into categories for exhibit.  The real set-up begins a day before the show, when hallways are transformed and prepared for the artwork that is hung and displayed by a veritable army of volunteers.  “A day before the show, a mob of moms and others descend upon the school and its like a frenzy of Santa’s elves laying, taping, and hanging artwork everywhere,” says one mom who considers herself “beyond lucky” to have had two of her four children go through Jay’s amazing art program.  “It’s a blast! There are a ton of us, and it all gets done in remarkable short order because Mr. G. is so ultra-organized,” says another parent.   On the day of the art show, volunteers once again help, hanging artwork all over the cafeteria and all-purpose room walls, and setting up the stages and loading the tables with the precious works of expression. Because the cafeteria is still in use for lunches until the very day of the shows, the three-dimensional art can’t be put up until all the lunch waves are over and cleaned up.  After the show, parents again help remove any of the remaining art off the walls and tables, and return it to the teachers to pass out to the students to bring home.  Jay is full of praise for the volunteers, “Putting on an art show of this caliber in two buildings a week apart can only be achieved with the great parent volunteers. If I didn’t have the parents helping me, the art show wouldn’t be what it is each year.”

Art HES circus sideThe Annual Art Shows have grown to be a highly anticipated part of the spring by students, faculty, administration, and parents as well.  As such, the schools have incorporated more into the evenings than just the gallery of works.  There are usually some snacks for the art hungry provided by the families and the PTO as well.  Mr. Granucci remembers parents making “platters and platters of finger type foods, and we served punch to the kids the night of the art show.”  Sometimes, the show is joined by the Scholastic Book Fair, and the PTO typically holds a basket raffle or silent auction that evening.  As one teacher and former student states, “It really is one of the most fun annual events at the school. We love to go every year with our kids, just as I did.”  The shows typically draw not only students and their parents, but also grandparents, aunts, uncles, and friends alike.   At HES, the PTO has an ice cream truck selling ice cream down by the gymnasium, and at Burr the teachers have a plant sale to raise money for a local Relay for Life team.

2015 will bring the 41st art show that Mr. Granucci has put on for the district since he started teaching 34 years ago. This year’s theme is once again going to the “Circus.”  He is very excited to display the various themed designs that the kids have made.  They have been busy creating circus animals, (elephants, tigers, lions, seals, monkey & dancing dogs), clowns, and a variety of circus themed people out of recycled containers that have been sent in by parents throughout the year. “I find that the kids enjoy using recycled supplies creating cool sculptures and using the paper mache,” says Jay.  All of the students, pre-k through 4th grade have created some sort of a bowl using either coils, slab or pinch pot techniques, and visitors will also see clay animal sculptures as well. Fourth graders typically create liquid soap bottles, or sculptural gargoyles that are simply spectacular. It’s always fun for the children to go home with a treat to display. Mr. Granucci enjoys seeing former students, now parents, coming in to enjoy the shows, and, he adds, “It’s an extensive list!”  He loves to hear that parents display their children’s artwork in their home for years afterwards.  One parent, a mom of three, gives us pressed-for-space parents a dynamite suggestion, “Because I have three children, and that many projects can’t be displayed in my house, I have taken to photographing the pieces that get sent home from the art show, and make ‘art books’ on Snapfish or Shutterfly. My children, two of whom are mostly grown up now, love to look back at the artwork, and remember their art teachers fondly.”

The Burr art show will be held on Wednesday, May 6th; and HES’s art show will be held on Wednesday, May 20th this year. Stop in if you have a chance, and become part of the living history of our RSD 17 Annual Elementary Art Show experience. We promise, it will be worth the trip!

Picture of Granucci’s by Y. Minervino. Other pictures by J. Granucci.

Editor’s Note: If anyone has pictures of art from previous HES or BES art shows or the art shows themselves, please send them to us to add to this article!

 

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One Response to Elementary School Art Shows: A “Must See” Tradition

  1. Sherry Sanderson

    March 31, 2015 at 9:23 am

    I remember these art shows and working so hard to transform your art classroom into another world. One of my best memories of Burr Elementary school!!! Thanks so much!!! Sherry Sanderson (now Blair)