Art Program in Courier Post

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Camden students find muse in school's visit to museum

BY KEVIN CALLAHAN • COURIER-POST STAFF • MARCH 18, 2010

PHILADELPHIA — During a recent tour of the Picasso exhibit at the Philadelphia Museum of Art, museum educator Diane Marimow quizzed the dozen third- and fourth-grade students from UrbanPromise's CamdenForward School. She asked why the colors in the shapes in Picasso's cubism painting of the "Man with a Violin" were not very different.

Many hands shot into the air.

She called on Rene Cruz, a third-grader, who said, "so nothing stands out."

"What you just told me is the definition of cubism," Marimow said with excitement in her voice well beyond the typical museum whisper to the enthralled students.

At the end of the 80-minute tour, Marimow complimented the students on how "they knew so much before they even walked in" to the museum. She said they were like Picasso, who learned something new and tried new things into his 90s.

"That really helps," Marimow said. "I used to be an art teacher and I wouldn't take my students to a museum unless they had some preliminary experience. They were able to look at cubism with a trained eye."

The students at UrbanPromise's CamdenForward School knew so much about Pablo Picasso because for weeks they had been studying his theories in art classes. UrbanPromise art teachers Karen Baker and Julie Kring-Schreifels taught the students his ground-breaking concepts and the history behind his revolutionary style, and they asked the students to paint and draw like Picasso.

"I like Picasso. He is an inspiration to me," said Rene, who is 8 years old. "He was an inspiration to his friends, too, like Georges Braque."

Rene not only knew of Picasso but also of the less popular Braque, a French painter who helped develop cubism.

"It is not just about creating," said Baker. "We bring in history and they learn about culture."

The first painting the children of UrbanPromise saw at the museum was the 1906 self-portrait of Picasso when he was 25 years old.

"Picasso's work inspires everybody," said Julio Rivera, a third-grader. "The reason we knew the right answers is they taught us all this."

The last work the students saw was Picasso's "Man with a Lamb" sculpture, created during World War II when Paris was being bombed.

Marimow asked how they saw the sculpture, and Rene said, "it looks like France went through a lot of troubles."

The students went back to the classroom after the trip to work on their masterpieces at the newly renovated art studio on the UrbanPromise campus in East Camden.

Rene said the trip to the museum made him want to paint now even more.

"I want my job to be a painter," Rene said. "He inspires me."

Reach Kevin Callahan at (856) 317-7821 or kcallahan@gannett.com.