Local artist-in-residence inspires through collaborative student sculpture
Creativity and clay were flying at West Bradford Elementary as kindergarten students collaborated with local artist Rhoda Kahler to create a new art installment at the school. Since the start of the 2019-20 school year, Kahler has served as the artist-in-residence in Mary Frances Guinta’s art room at West Bradford. She has taught students from across the district about the artistic process and together, they have worked to build the new sculpture.
The project began with a desire to collaborate. West Bradford art teacher, Mary Frances Giunta, and Downingtown High School West art teacher, Anne Russell, were looking for opportunities to bring students from the high school and elementary school together. They brought in Kahler to help facilitate, and together, they applied for and won a Downingtown Community Education Foundation (DCEF) grant.
DCEF was founded to identify, promote and support innovative educational initiatives for the students in DASD and to expand and enrich public education. Its grants support programs, projects, services and/or other activities that emphasize new approaches to teaching. As of September 2019, DCEF has awarded more than $135,000 in DASD teacher grants.
Recently, the James Lee and Annanette Harper Family Foundation gifted DCEF with funds dedicated to support the arts, culture and humanities. DCEF board member Carol Harper explained the intent of the grant, “We are looking for projects that help students, particularly the invisible students, feel empowered over their own lives - forming creative, independent, productive citizens of the world.”
The DCEF grant supports the work of Kahler, who, as a resident of West Bradford, is also donating a significant amount of her time to support the project. Kahler hopes that this piece will remind the students of the special experiences and topics they learned in school. She explained, “The sculpture evokes many feelings, including science, technology, motion and games, all wrapped together in brightly colored and whimsical clay and metal work. When these children come back to see this piece of art, I want them to have those feelings of their childhood.” The kindergartners echoed Kahler’s intent, using words including “games,” “science lab,” “cool gadgets,” and “space ships” to describe how the sculpture makes them feel.
Earlier this school year, Downingtown West students visited the classroom to learn from Kahler and to work with the elementary students. “They learn from each other and create a community,” noted Guinta. Together, the high school and elementary students created a large cube with intricate details on all six sides. Other pieces include discs, spheres and conical shapes, all with elaborate designs. The pieces will be mounted to metal rods and brought together to form the final sculpture.
As a small part of the larger work, kindergartners made impressions in clay discs, adding their literal mark to the project. Students were encouraged to get creative with their impressions, using found objects, including their shoes. Guinta hopes that this project will not only serve as a happy memory for the participants, but that it will set the stage for future fearlessness in years to come. “This is the basis of creativity,” remarked Guinta. “This is where it starts; where they learn not to fear. We can give them that confidence.”
Rhoda Kahler is a ceramic artist with a studio in West Chester, Pennsylvania. Her work has been featured internationally, nationally, and regionally in magazines, newspapers and television, including on the Home and Garden Television network (HGTV) and Crave Magazine. In addition to exhibiting in galleries, Kahler’s large scale handmade tile murals and sculptures appear in public and private collections. Notable commissions include the Delaware Art Museum, West Chester University and the Philadelphia Environmental Film Festival. Kahler conducts workshops nationally and participates in a wide range of artist residencies, some of which include the Philadelphia Museum of Art and Inglis House. Kahler is an adjunct faculty member at West Chester University, where she received her bachelor of fine art degree in 1995.
The West Bradford sculpture is due to be completed in June 2020 and will be located outside of gym. To learn more about Rhoda Kahler, visit www.rhodakahler.com. To learn more about the Downingtown Community Education Foundation and the grants and programs it offers students and teachers, visit www.dasd.org/dcef.