WATERVILLE — Second-grader Nina Garza of Waterville looked at a painting inside the Colby College Museum of Art and said it appeared to have been hung upside down — the grass in the picture seemed to be growing down, not up.

So she composed her dance routine accordingly: upside down.

“I know that the painting was upside down, so I did the upside-down dance,” Nina said. “The grass is upside down.”

Nina was among those taking part recently in the first week of Lively Spaces, an art, poetry and dance camp for children at Colby’s museum. The dance portion of the camp is conducted this year in front of two large paintings by Alex Katz in the museum’s Schupf Wing.

One of the oil-on-canvas paintings, “Black Brook,” was completed in 1995 and is a gift to the museum by the artist.

After viewing the painting, Nina proceeded to demonstrate her dance — an inverted, arms akimbo, twist that goes in several directions at once to the finale.


The dance instructor is Jeni Frazee, a Waterville elementary school teacher.

Lauren Lessing, Colby’s Mirken curator of education, said Nina’s observation was right.

“The image is reversed by the fact that it’s reflected,” Lessing said. “She’s perceiving something there about orientation that I think is really central about this composition. It’s exactly what we’re hoping that kids learn from this program.”

Lessing said children are learning to look and see and to understand art by responding creatively to what they see.

She said this kind of learning, which is slowly being eliminated in public schools as funding to the arts is cut, is crucial to creativity, problem solving and language skills.

“We’re hoping with programs like this we can come in and supplement what the schools are losing,” Lessing said.


Matt Timme, Mirken education and public program coordinator at the museum, said the summer camp for youngsters in second to fifth grades was started by Lessing seven years ago. He said it was cobbled together with discretionary funding the first couple of years, then began to take shape in its third year with a partnership grant from the Maine Arts Commission.

For the past three years, the summer camp has been funded by Karen and Jeff Packman, both members of the Colby Museum Board of Governors. The camp runs five days a week on about $12,000, which includes staff, art supplies and busing for children at the childcare program at the George J. Mitchell school.

There is room for about 30 students for the three-week camp, which closes with a big performance for family and friends Friday, Aug. 2, at the museum. Enrollment is first-come, first-served.

“Everything is free,” Timme said. “All our educational programs are completely free, including this camp.”

He said the 30 students split into small groups for poetry, dance and drawing so every student can receive attention.

The drawing class concentrated on a scattered pile of summer shoes and the children were asked to draw the outline of the pile without taking their colored pens off the paper. The poetry class was based on objects the children observed in sculptures they saw at the museum.


Frazee said the dance program this year is based on the two Katz paintings, “Black Brook” — the one that appears to be upside down — and “Tan Woods.”

“They had amazing ideas about them; they were noticing patterns,” Frazee said. “They were noticing words like straight, curved, square, reflections, so they are going to use those words in their dance. I’m guiding their ideas.”

Doug Harlow — 612-2367


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