Billy’s kindergarten class will be having its first art lesson with art teacher Mrs. Magenta. But for five-year-old Billy, he’s filled with anxiety because he isn’t quite sure what art is or what exactly he’ll be doing. But thanks to the teacher’s patience in explaining what the class will be doing, Billy feels ready to face the challenge. It’s a true story that inspired Governor Mifflin’s Jane Wolfgang to write and illustrate the newly-released book, “Art Today!”
Wolfgang is in her 19th year as an art teacher, with 16 of those years spent at Mifflin. She teaches elementary kindergarten through fourth-grade students and also a class in visual arts at the high school, so she’s experienced plenty of frustration felt by young people who’ve found it hard to ‘let go’ in art.
Her humorous story unfolds when young Billy hears what he and others will be doing in art class. He thinks he can do those things because he has already – literally. Mrs. Magenta explains that they will cut in art class, and Billy thinks, ‘Yes, I can cut!’ with an illustration that shows him cutting his hair! The teacher also stresses the importance of clean-up. By the end of the book, Billy is proud to show off his artistic accomplishments.
Wolfgang explained the book was two years in the making before she sent a mock-up to Crystal Productions, publisher of art education resources. She credits fellow teachers and a librarian at Mifflin for encouraging her along the way. She said the idea for the story came from an actual kindergarten student she had several years ago.
“He was very anxious and full of questions on that first day,” she recalled, “so I felt that a silly story could help. I’ve since read this story to my kindergartners on their first day of art class.”
“Art is a great form of self-expression,” explained Wolfgang, a graduate of Kutztown University with a master’s degree from Wilkes University. Her favorite part of teaching is creating a lesson. Her “absolute favorite” among author/illustrators is Eric Carle.
“Art is a chance to create, and it’s not right or wrong,” she said. “It’s a great way to relax, to take an idea and bring it to life. I’ve always told my kids, ‘Be inside your own head and paint or draw.’ They don’t yet have a sense of how their art looks to someone else.”
In a project inspired by illustrator Dave DeVries’ “The Monster Engine,” Wolfgang recently had her high school students team with her kindergartners. The older students took the monster drawings of the younger students and painted them realistically. The work will be displayed at the elementary school open house/art shows on April 2 (kindergarten-first grade) and April 3 (grades 2-4).
Wolfgang said she also has written and illustrated another book, “Pierre the Paintbrush,” which she hopes to have published.
Emerging jazz artist Nathan Bellott of Berks County will debut “The Nathan Bellott Band” at the Berks Jazz Fest on Friday at 11 p.m., at Craig Poole’s Jones Street East at the Crowne Plaza Reading. It’s part of the Young Faces of Jazz series during the Berks Jazz Fest. Bellott, on saxophone, will be joined by Dana Malseptic on piano, Walter Stinson on bass and Matt Honor on drums. Malseptic paired with Bellott last December for a concert at the Yocum Institute for Arts Education in Wyomissing.
“I’m really excited and happy we can make it happen,” said Bellott, of his new music venture. The 22-year-old senior at the New School for Jazz and Contemporary Music in New York City also will be participating in the festival’s opening reception on Friday from 5:30 to 7 p.m., at the Santander Performing Arts Center in Reading.
Bellott and musician Chris Heslop will perform a duo concert, “The Sound of Time,” on April 6, at 8 p.m., at the Yocum Institute, as part of a special festival edition of the Institute’s Musical Collaboration series.
The Young Faces of Jazz series continues with “Temple Avenue” featuring Seth Ebersole on saxophone on Saturday at 11 p.m., at Craig Poole’s.
Some other events surrounding the Berks Jazz Fest include: The Berks High School All-Star Jazz Band and the All-Star Chorus on Sunday at 7 p.m.; Pat Souders & the Ortlieb’s All-Stars on Monday at 7 pm.; Craig Thatcher Band and Mike Dugan with a tribute to the Allman Brothers on April 5, at 2 p.m., all at Building 24 Live in Wyomissing, and Duo with Charlie Wanyo on April 5, at 7 p.m., at The Speckled Hen in Reading.
Pulitzer Prize-nominated author Scott Weidensaul will share highlights from his most recent book, “Gone for Another Day,” a sequel to “Gone for the Day” by the late Pennsylvania naturalist Ned Smith, on Saturday at 4 p.m., in the visitor center gallery of Hawk Mountain Sanctuary in Albany Twp., Berks Co. The talk will feature nearly 50 years of unpublished field sketches, drawings and hand-drawn maps by Smith.
Weidensaul, longtime board member at Hawk Mountain, said Smith’s connections to the facility were deep, with annual hawk-watching pilgrimages.
“In 1984, Smith marked the sanctuary’s 50th anniversary with ‘Hawk Mountain Gold,’ a painting of two golden eagles passing the North Lookout,” Weidensaul said. “It was one of his finest works, and among the last before his death.”
Smith was recognized as a premier nature artist of the 20th century, with a 45-year career in creating thousands of paintings and drawings for such publications as “Pennsylvania Game News,” “National Wildlife,” “Field and Stream,” and “Sports Afield.”
Weidensaul, left, spent two years scouring entries from Smith’s journals. The final selection offers a variety stretching from the summer of 1936 when Smith was 17, through his very last entry on April 22, 1985, the day before he died of a heart attack at age 65. It also features dozens of illustrations and photos of the artist and his late wife, Marie, in the outdoors.