Students intertwine art and outdoors with summer program

RIDGWAY – Area youth had a chance to spend time in nature and improve their artistic skills with the "Walk, Talk & Print" program offered by ECCOTA over the past few weeks. Area students from fourth through eighth grade took to the outdoors around the Rails to Trails and Sandy Beach areas in the morning with Lora Zill. Zill teaches writing and critical analysis at Gannon University, and is also a teaching artist with the Pennsylvania Council on the Arts. She is also a faculty member in a program for gifted public school students at Allegheny College. "Each day they had a little bag that had their tool kit in it, which was colored pencils and a journal," ECCOTA Executive Director Abbi Peters said. "We also had little plastic baggies that they would use to collect stuff. They would go into the river, they were finding little bits of crayfish and shells and then different types of flowers and leaves. Lora [Zill] had an actual field-book with her and they would stop and look to see what kind of specimens they were finding."Peters said working with Zill was a nice experience because of her newness to the area. "She's not from the area so it was nice to have someone from out of the area working with the kids and she's done a lot of different creative writing activities," Peters said. "It was neat to see how she worked with the kids and the different ideas that she could have them formulate and put onto paper."The second part occurred in the afternoon as Ridgway Area High School art teacher Richard Skellen helped the students with printmaking at Appalachian Arts. "They did printmaking with the different pieces that they found and also created some small painting studies and also poetry that went along with their prints," Peters said. "It was a way to kind of combine everything that they were experiencing both visually and through the written word."Peters said the printmaking processes were new to the students. "They really got an idea through the printmaking process of the textures in the different leaves and flowers, how they would react with the ink and how something they thought was going to print well, they then found out it didn't," Peters said. "I actually got to talk about the process with Mr. Skellen as to why it didn't work as well and what they should be looking for to translate it during the printmaking process."I think a lot of them hadn't done printmaking before so that was a new experience for a lot of them. They did one project where they had a written a poem about something they had found that day," Peters said. "Then they went and created three different printing plates to almost do a comic strip effect to translate their poem into visual pictures. So they had never done that 2-plate process before, they actually had made their plates out of styrofoam so they were able to carve their images into that. Then to be able to see the effects of putting down the first layer of color and then the second layer with the actual plate and the effect that it caused. I think that was a process that I'm not sure any of them were familiar with."The project came about as Peters found state funding for an Arts in Education residency from the Pennsylvania Council on the Arts. She said this was provided through the Arts in Education Partnership which is a program of the Pennsylvania Council on the Arts and was administered by ArtsErie.