COLUMBIA — The room is quiet, except for soft classical music coming from a radio in the corner. Children are spread out across the room, some under tables, others lying down in the middle of the floor, each hard at work creating a work of art on a paper bag.
After they complete their masterpieces, the silence is broken as the students rush to the carpet in the center of the room and wait to hear about the next project.
The participants of this art camp, themed “Tree Huggers,” have made piles of nature-themed art. During the summer, Columbia Art League runs a different camp every week — each focused on new subject matter and open to one of several age groups.
The focus is on more than just artistic skill building, though. It’s also on embracing students’ creativity and refining their problem-solving skills, camp director Patty Jaconetta Groening said.
“Creativity, self-expression, exploring lots of materials, new materials, are really the goals we have, in addition to having a positive social experience with the other campers,” Groening said.
During the camp, the young artists completed approximately three projects a day using almost any imaginable medium, from watercolor with wax resist and modeling clay to traditional markers and crayons.
For one project, the students took photosensitive paper outside and made "sun prints" of things they collected from the area surrounding Calvary Episcopal Church, where the camp regularly met.
“This week we’ve used a lot of natural materials, going outside and actually gathering sticks and leaves and twigs,” camp coordinator Nikita Luedke said.
The students also spent time in Peace Park every day to burn off extra energy, but the field trips also had a creative purpose.
There, the children learned to gather inspiration from nature. They then translated that inspiration — in colors, shapes, patterns and subject matter — to their art. Everything students made during "Tree Hugger" week was tree-related, and the projects often incorporated pieces of what they gathered in Peace Park that day.
“The way not to do it is to say, ‘You follow these five steps and we’re done,’” said Groening. “It’s, ‘Here’s what we’re going to be inventive about today.’”
The camp closed July 13 with an art show where the children exhibited their work. Art teacher Rachel Nelson said it was a chance for parents to talk to their student artists about what they created and an opportunity for the children to practice talking about their work.
“They act really professional, and they walk their guests around," Nelson said. “It’s important for both parties.”