Methow Arts: 4th Graders Explore Ekphrastic Writing

February 2020

By Ashley Lodato, Arts Education Director – Methow Arts Alliance

If you’ve ever read an essay inspired by a painting, or listened to a song prompted by a poem, or watched a dance influenced by a sculpture, then you’ve experienced ekphrasis. Ekphrasis is the practice of exploring a piece of art through the lens of a different medium, to help share the emotional content and experience of an object or piece of art with someone who has never encountered it.

Methow Valley fourth graders had the opportunity to explore ekphrastic writing in conjunction with a recent field trip to the Confluence Gallery & Art Center.

Upon arriving at the gallery, students were welcomed by Executive Director Sarah Jo Lightner, who told them about Confluence’s mission, as well as introducing them to the current exhibit–“The Color of Words”–and explaining the process for getting art accepted into a show.

Reading changes lives, and The Color of Words celebrates the benefits and power of the written word.

The artists featured in the exhibit were  asked by the curator to ponder how literature has enlivened their imaginations, stimulated their creativity, and to render, in the media of their choice, the pieces of literature that have most strongly impacted their art.

Says curator Penelope Varn, “The artists were urged to reach beyond the ordinary and wrench from the depths of their psyches the sentiments imprinted upon them by the stories and poems they have read, to elevate the banal and to cast it in a light yet to be fathomed.”

 Painter and teaching artist Margaret Kingston then took over, examining four different pieces of work in the show. Margaret discussed color, use of texture, and the artists’ perspectives on their work.

One of the artists featured in the show, Robin Doggett, stopped by to talk about her piece: a multi-media interactive interpretation of a “book,” consisting of a series of antique sleeves and moveable paper printed with words. 

The next phase of the residency gave students a chance to walk through the gallery looking at each work of art before settling on a piece that resonated with each of them. Some were drawn to vivid colors of paintings inspired by books they’d never read; others loved the art pieces born of familiar poems and stories, like “The Owl and the Pussycat” and “The Jungle Book.” All were encouraged by the fact that one of the artists grew up and attended school in the Methow Valley, and is now a young adult creating art professionally.

Poet and teaching artist Kelleigh McMillan then guided students in a writing exercise that involved examining the piece of art they had chosen through writing poetry. To wrap up, students shared their poems aloud with the rest of the class. 

This art residency was brought to students by Methow Arts’ Okanogan Region Arts Education Partnership.  The partnership serves more than 5,200 students and 370 teachers across Okanogan County with arts programs in classrooms in the Omak, Okanogan, Brewster, Bridgeport, Pateros, and Methow School Districts, and in the Paschal Sherman Indian School. Project sponsors include the Public School Funding Alliance, Icicle Fund, the Methow Valley Fund of the Community Foundation of North Central Washington, the Methow Valley School District, the National Endowment for the Arts, and ArtsWA.


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