Claire is a visionary artist and performer from Kansas City, US, currently a student at Kansas City Art Institute. Since her internship at The Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art, she has been travelling around the world volunteering for charities as according to her, “there’s nothing more rewarding”. Her preferred vacation style is “spending some time doing something good for somebody else and leaving a positive impact with my murals”. So far, she has left murals in Indonesia and Costa Rica.
On her Phuket travels, Claire met the Good Shepherd Sisters, charity workers who empower, enhance dignity, support self-sufficiency and build esteem for those excluded from society. She was touched by the volunteers’ hard work and people’s generous donations and sacrifice for the St. Euphrasia BanYa Literacy Centre which helps children access high-quality, long-term education in Thailand and Myanmar.
As an artist, Claire has her own belief in doing something good for the children. According to her research, “visual information in environments in which we live, work and learn in have an impact on our capacity to do those things. So the more beautiful spaces are, the more our capacity to learn and to be positive, to be proud and to be happy”. So she decided to create another mural to show her support and appreciation.
Claire wanted the children to be able to see something beautiful every single day, something beautiful in their own eyes, so she asked a few students to actively participate in the mural painting, giving them free rein to use their creativity and imagination.
“Long term, it’s going to have a positive impact on their learning, letting them know that people are listening, people do care and people do come to help them and beautify the spaces for them. Beautiful spaces will lift up their self-esteem and their ability to learn,” Claire believes.
Before the painting started, I asked Claire what kind of mural was on her mind or what subject she was intending to paint. She told me that she had no idea as it really depends on her co-painters, meaning the students who were about to paint the background for her. In her own words, “taking the energy, curiosity, the smiley faces and the exciting moments, letting them flow in my mural. Letting the children paint the background, I’ll form a mural painting afterwards. It’s going to be very challenging for me”.
Five BanYa students painted the background with colours directly from paint buckets. What they created was almost like children’s graffiti with different geometric shapes, dots, lines and palm prints on the 10x10-foot canvas.
The real challenge for Claire was to see through the pell-mell colours of the background and contrive something beautiful from the lovely children. Claire’s part was more impressionism with subjects such as an elephant – the common symbol in Thailand for bravery and strength – in blue to represent the monarchy of Thailand. The lotus flowers – which thrive from beneath the muddy water and bloom with wonderful colours, shapes and fragrance – symbolise rebirth, beauty and growing through hard times, and Claire chose yellow to present the royal colour of the King. The lotus flowers frame the elephant, acting as a crown and collar, regal signs of adornment. Butterflies – the most free-willed creature in our world, and for Claire omens of good luck and resurrection of life – emerge from the side of the elephant.
These different elements, together with the background, might usually be regarded as separate and independent factions that few people would combine. But with Claire’s imagination, delicate hands and loving heart, she brings them together. The visual collision and fusion she creates is a rare experience that she named Regal Blossom.
The painting breaks the boundaries between the genres. It is free to drift. Art requires both a boundless creativity and an unfettered aesthetic. And Claire achieves this. Both parts contain momentum and the enthusiasm of the painters. If I was not there observing from the beginning, perhaps I would never have guessed that this harmonious mural was co-painted by BanYa students and Claire.
In this utilitarian era, children need to learn useful knowledge and enrich themselves. But at the same time, they need to slow down to appreciate beautiful things and nurture spirituality in their lives. They need to use their eyes to observe the greatness of art, and their hearts to read and feel the artists’ understanding of beauty, life, social class, spirit of the times and even different national cultures.
Arts education is life-enhancing, it’s central to children’s development and it’s invaluable in stimulating creative thinking. Indeed, arts education makes an important contribution to the wider goal of developing creativity in our society and economy. One of the most crucial roles of teachers is developing young minds through exploration, discovery and creativity. Arts education embraces both artistic education – that is the child making art – and aesthetic education – the child as a receiver of art.
As W.B. Yeats said, “Education is not the filling of a pail, but the lighting of a fire”. In this, Claire set us an example.