PUBLISHED: 4:03 PM on Wednesday, December 19, 2007
Art cards encourage creative thinking
There is a virus sweeping through Mendenhall River School, an aggressive bug that is infecting students and staff alike.

It's not influenza or the common cold, but an art germ. From kindergarten classrooms to the teacher's lounge, everyone is drawing, making colorful personalized trading cards. These aren't baseball or Pokemon cards, but miniature works or art - each a unique, hand crafted piece of self-expression.

The source of this mania is Rob Logan, an artist from Harpswell, Maine who has spent the past three weeks as the school's Artist in Residence. Logan, whose tenure at Mendenhall River is sponsored by a grant from the Alaska State Council for the Arts and the kind support of community members, has been working with children and trading cards for more than a decade.

"We all want to change the world a little," Logan said.

"I realized that creative thinking was the answer to the future. We need to develop creative thinkers to tackle the world's problems. Art is a great way to teach kids to think, to build the next generation of problem solvers."

With trading cards Logan is literally teaching kids to think outside the box while working within a little box.

The concept is simple. Students receive sheets of blank cards - nine to a page - and fill each miniature canvas with a design using colored markers or pencils. Logan stresses color.

Photo by Amy Steffian
  First grader Riley Sikes creates his own trading cards.
"Color is your friend," he said to a room full of first graders. "The more color you use the more people will like your card and want to trade with you."

He teaches them to blend and overlay colors to create sophisticated effects.

The cards aren't just about coloring, however. Each also features a place for a title, the artist's name and a number.

The intent is for students to join pictures and words to shape their ideas.

"Expression is done in many ways," Logan said. "The titles help make the project less intimidating for some students, and they bring out the atmosphere and emotion behind each drawing."

The small size of the cards is also appealing, Logan said. "It's a doable size, a condensed statement not an intimidating empty canvas." Although the cards are small their impact has been great. In Mrs. Canaday's first grade classroom, boys and girls concentrate intently on drawing. Blue castles, purple mountains, a turtle, jewels and super heroes fill their pages.

"I have things that are different and I put them together to make my pictures," says one 6 year old. Another adds, "After you do a lot of color it stands out. It looks really good."

According to Logan many of the themes expressed by Mendenhall River students are universal, common to trading cards wherever he helps young people make them.

"Children everywhere draw love - they show their parents and friends, and they draw hearts. They also draw natural environments. Everyone draws fish! Here in Juneau we have lots of mountain scenes in the trading cards. And when children realize they are truly free to draw whatever they want, then the mythological characters come out - the heroes and creatures from their imaginations. The only rule we have is no violence. Students can't draw weapons or violence."

When the drawings are complete they are cut free and laminated, and the trading begins. Students swap their creations at lunch, in the hallways, at recess, after school, and with their teachers.

"I've got to make enough cards to trade with each of my students", said second grade teacher Greg Beck, "I need better pens!"

To Logan, trading is as much a part of the project as the creation of the artwork. Sharing their creations allows students to interact, to cross boundaries, seek out others, and exchange ideas.

Logan brought stacks of his own cards to trade and he admits to being a serious trader.

"I tell the kids I want their cards," he said.

In Mrs. Canaday's class students line up to show Logan their work.

He chooses a couple cards from a student's stack and then let's the child choose an equal number from his own.

"That's unbelievable. That's so good," he tells one artist. "I get goose bumps when I see work like that."

Logan plans to take a set of Mendenhall River School cards back to Boston for a show at Redbones, a gallery and restaurant when he displays his own work.

"The cards are like a giant quilt. If you stand back, you see a wall of color. If you look closely, you see the details, the fabric of us."