At Madison's Van Hise elementary, an exercise in art — and in muddy hair

2010-05-28T20:17:00Z At Madison's Van Hise elementary, an exercise in art — and in muddy hairBy PAMELA COTANT | For the State Journal madison.com

As Van Hise Elementary School students mixed clay with their feet before using it to create a mural, they found simple joy playing in the mud and having it spread on their faces and in their hair.

"You can just stomp in the clay and get this gooey clay on your face," said Matias Bambi, 8, a third grader. "It feels amazing."

Kathryn Romain, 7, a second grader, said the clay felt "cold and sloppy" on her feet.

But the activity Friday was more than a tactile exercise. Visiting artist Joel Pfeiffer of Hartland, who has facilitated more than 100 clay stomps since 1974, said he likes to refer to a favorite quotation of his.

"As we mix the clay, the clay mixes us," said Pfeiffer, who did a clay stomp mural project as an exchange between St. Petersburg, Russia, and Milwaukee in 1989. "We're going to take the clay and the fun and create a permanent work of art."

After the stomping, the clay was pressed into a dozen 25-inch by 35-inch frames to create panels, which were carved with designs to portray the theme, "What I Wish for the World." The panels will hang floor to ceiling in a main entrance to the school off the parking lot. The unveiling is planned for the school's open house this fall.

Van Hise art teacher Beth Cantwell and principal Peg Keeler worked to bring this project to the school and both agreed it created an atmosphere that was "joyous." It had been a dream of Alan Ginsberg, who teaches a fourth/fifth grade class and is good friend of Pfeiffer, who is a retired Hartland Arrowhead High School teacher.

"The process is what really excited me," Cantwell said.

A special, thinner clay was mixed in buckets to apply to the students' faces and hair and then rinsed off in the washing station after their turn to stomp. Cantwell said applying the clay was an important part of the process.

"Part of it is just kind of the letting go, having fun, just kind of diving into the project," Cantwell said. "It takes the clay to a whole new level."

The school started fundraising more than a year ago and wound up with $10,000, more than its goal of $8,000. Extra money went toward a day full of activities outside. When the students weren't stomping, they were at eight other stations for activities like relays. They also were entertained by musician Stuart Stotts and juggler Truly Remarkable Loon.

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