A place where students can make their own masterpieces

Montgomery Center for the Arts’ summer camp is a world of imagination

By: Kara Fitzpatrick
   MONTGOMERY — With the steady application of shamrock-colored paint, Samantha Siegelheim helped students infuse life into a 4-foot dragon. Amidst a backdrop of tables holding papier maché masterpieces and painted sock puppets, she explained the fate of their new creation.
   "The dragon will be suspended from the tree," she said, pointing through the shade. "And the tree will be used as a puppet master. That’s just one of the ideas the kids came up with on how we could creatively display it."
   Ms. Siegelheim runs the early childhood program of the Montgomery Center for the Arts’ summer arts camp program, where creativity is the driving force.
   Here, it’s OK to spill paint, mess up, work slower or like a different color from your friends.
   Here, camp director Markey Walter said, it’s up to the students "to make their own masterpiece."
   And this week, the focus is on puppets as 24 children plug away at fashioning an imaginary being.
   For nine weeks beginning in June, the arts center offers students from 4 to 12 a number of one-week camps covering a variety of themes, including Puppet Theatre, Medieval Magic and The Art of Science and Water Adventures. And each Friday, the young artists share their newfound knowledge with some type of performance, Ms. Walter said.
   "It’s grassroots," Ms. Siegelheim said of the summer program. She said parents have defined the camp fondly as "granola" for its down-to-earth approach. "We want (students) to be empowered to learn about themselves as an artist," Ms. Siegelheim said.
   Tossing aside the notion of obedient campers on a quiet quest to create projects that mimic their peers, the center has plunged into an independent concept of camp. This is a place to create art, believes Ms. Siegelheim, "not a place to learn crafts."
   Each camp theme provides youngsters with a chance to explore art at their own pace. For example, if one student chooses to create three sock puppets and another makes a single marionette — well, that’s just fine. "Since there are so many different kids, there are so many different interests," Ms. Walter said.
   "Imagination is everything," Ms. Walter added. "There’s no rules in art as far as I am concerned."
   And students seem to be making full use of that passport for creative independence.
   Puppet Theatre campers Megan Case and Molly Girt, both 11, created Houdini and Ellie — an elephant sock puppet duo. Inventing the story of a princess — a part played by Ellie — Megan and Molly will act out the drama with their handheld puppets before today’s audience.
   Not to be outdone, Joey Lockwood, 7, gave new life to an old sock as well.
   "I thought, nothing alive, nothing true," Joey said when masterminding his puppet. The result was Spike — who is a "nice" monster, Joey said.
   And then there’s Polly — a bulbous pink pig who "likes to roll in the mud," said the animal’s creator, Emily Case, 8.
   The students won’t leave the Puppet Theatre camp with just a new means of amusement, arts center Executive Director Frances Chaves believes. "We set the themes and then the kids lead the projects," Ms. Chaves explained of the art camp. "They have ownership, and that leads to tons of pride in accomplishments and great creativity."


For more information on remaining art camp programs, call the arts center at (609) 921-3272 or visit www.montgomerycenterforthearts.com.