As soon as Julia Carter stood up in front of the group of chattering third- graders, silence filled the Star of the Sea School auditorium.
There were 11 students, gathered around newspaper-covered tables, and they stopped moving and focused on Carter's words.
In just moments, they'd grab plastic knives and pencils to whittle down a potato into a stamp that would get swabbed with black paint and then pressed onto a square of fabric.
"You can chop that potato right down to any shape you want to," she said. Once each child made their own shape, they'd have to borrow from others to fill up empty space.
Antsy to begin, the group remained still as Carter explained one last thing: Thanking one another makes working together so much easier, she said. She demonstrated a gesture with her hands folded in front of her, saying, "thank-you for your kindness."
"When you go to other countries, that says 'I honor the light in you.' I honor the spirit and the goodness in you," Carter explained.
Carter's nonprofit Arts and Cultural Exchange sponsored four days of art workshops for kindergartners through fifth-graders at Star of the Sea School, centered on textiles and patterns found in Africa. She planned and led five separate, age-specific projects for the 65 students, all at no cost to the school. Their work will be displayed in an exhibit, "Print, Pattern and Color" at the Arts and Cultural Exchange gallery this weekend.
The organization serves different groups in Clatsop County - from children to the elderly - trying to draw more people into the arts and the benefits it offers, she said. Private donations keep a roof over its 10th Street studio/ exhibit space and pay for supplies, but volunteers are badly needed to keep reaching out to more people.
"We don't have a single population we serve," Carter said. No matter where you are in life, everyone can still create, she believes.
Students get hands-onEight and 9-year-old hands picked up their potato halves, and started carving.
Andrea Harris first looked at the flat white surface of the vegetable, considering what she wanted her own cloth, inspired by an African Adinkra cloth, to look like when she was done. Each student got a square piece of cloth, divided into four equal quadrants.
"I'm thinking about how the ink will get on it when it's time to stamp," she said. She designed a sunset image, and was pleased with her progress, despite getting a little messy.
"Ah! It just squirted me!" she said as an enthusiastic jab with the knife yielded a little more than she bargained for - right into her face.
Across the table, Nicolas Feighner was carving a tree.
"It looks like a winter tree, the branches are bare," Harris remarked.
Maria Heyen carved a cross, with circles radiating from it. She was enjoying spending so much time working on an art project.
"I've never done anything like this before," she said.
Parent volunteer Aleda Hellberg squeezed black paint from a tube on to glass plates, smoothing the ebony blobs out with a roller before bringing one to each table.
Once finished with their whittling, the children pushed the design into the paint, then firmly pressed it onto their cloth, making a pattern.
Carter cautioned the students, reminding them not to touch the surface afterward.
"It's very sticky. Block print paint is just like tar," she said.
A flawless result, however, wasn't the aim, she reminded.
"It's not about being perfect. It's about trying something new."
A multi-cultural backgroundCarter spent more than a decade working with inner-city kids in St. Louis before moving to the area eight years ago with her husband. She also makes regular visits to support an orphanage in India. That exposure was evident as she worked with Jenny Bergman's second and third grade blended class at Star.
As Carter explained the geometric patterns of Kente, Adinkra and mud cloths to the children, Bergman noticed that she captured their attention right away.
"She's lived and worked around the world, and she brings a lot of enthusiasm," Bergman said.
The teacher welcomed having a creative project for her students that didn't take a big chunk out of her own jam-packed schedule.
"It's a time issue," Bergman said. "It's a real gift for a classroom teacher to have someone come in." Watching Carter was also inspiring, she added, helping her think about what's next for her classroom.
One thing she knows for certain is that whatever she gives her students to do, they'll embrace it.
"In primary grades, kids naturally love to do any type of art project," she said. Bergman has been teaching at Star for 11 years, and has seen that what students get is often a result of parent involvement or a teacher's own interests.
Working art into teachers' daily class schedules can be challenging, especially when they aren't artistically inclined, said Star of the Sea Principal Tom Rogozinski. With a stronger background in sports himself, even Rogozinski was compelled to try art projects on his own after watching Carter prepare and execute the lesson with basic supplies and techniques.
And slimmer budgets at Star of the Sea School has cut out art teachers who were on the payroll historically, Rogozinski said.
"As a teacher myself, I think 'I could do this,'" he said. "Teachers will look at this and see that it's inexpensive and uses simple methodology. That's really powerful."?
And that's exactly what Carter intended.
"It doesn't take much to share something in such a basic form," she said.
Carter is hoping inspired teachers and students from all school districts in the county will soon be able to come to her studio space to look at books and other materials to come up with more fresh ways to bring art into local classrooms. Later this year, she plans to make the no-cost resource center a reality.
"We feel there is a tremendous need in our schools," Carter said.