by Cassie Stephens, Art Teacher, Johnson Elementary
I love taking art classes—which came as a big surprise to my art students when I announced that I’d taken a class at the Frist Center for the Visual Arts one Saturday. “But you are an art teacher! Why would you need a class on art?”
This led to what I had hoped would be a great discussion about how even as an adult, one still has plenty to learn. However, I was wearing a sculptural stack of donuts atop my head, which proved to be more than distracting. So instead of going off on my life-long-learner rant, I told them all about my exciting hat-making class.
The class was organized through the Frist in conjunction with their Houghton Hall exhibit. If you had the opportunity to view this exhibit, then you know it was a delightful Downton Abbey-esque treat for the eyes. A hat-making class was arranged as a nod to that era of elegance and style. Rosemary Brunton, associate educator for community engagement at the Frist, organized the class with Mark Sloniker, artist, puppet creator, and hat maker extraordinaire, as our wonderful instructor.
After a stroll through the exhibit where we were allowed to sketch whatever we found inspiring, which for me included the detailed embroidery of the clothing worn by Sir Robert Walpole, owner of the manor, Mark brought us back to the workroom and showed us his hats. These masterpieces of whimsy and delight could warrant an exhibit all their own. By day, Mark works at Animax Designs in Nashville as a workshop supervisor, building puppets for theme parks and some of our favorite childhood television shows. By night, he creates hats of amazing creative delight. I was so inspired by his fun and funky creations that I decided to scrap my original “classy-lady-going-to-the-Derby hat” (because, who am I kidding, I’m never going to a Derby) and decided to sculpt a donut-y delicious number.
Because I love to create and wear clothing that ties in with what my students are learning, I used such dessert-loving artists as Wayne Thiebald and Peter Anton as my inspiration. The following week, while wearing my hat, I introduced my students to the work of these artists and told them that we’d be creating a donut-themed still life of our own. The icing on the cake, er, donut: we dined on a box of donuts once our masterpieces were complete. My students absolutely loved this delicious lesson. And I am thrilled that places like the Frist share such wonderful artists and opportunities with our community.