Second Graders Build Methow Valley Critters

Winter 2015

by Ashley Lodato

Education Director, Methow Arts Alliance


When do you get to see the Methow Valley Elementary School art room filled with eagles, cougars, rattlesnakes, herons, and black widows? Second graders know the answer to this–when Jody Olson visits the school, that’s when. Olson, a Riverside artist and art teacher, has been leading papier-mâché residencies for second graders in the Methow Valley for years; even decades, some say. 

The residency begins in the classroom with research on “critters of the Methow Valley.” Students select a local animal, learn about its habitat, locomotion, diet, and physical characteristics. They then draw pictures of the animal’s exterior and what they imagine the skeletal system inside to be.

At this point the residency moves into the art room and students begin to shape their animals limb by limb, wing by wing, using wadded up newspaper and masking tape.  This is the “armature,” the framework of the sculpture.

Phase two is sticky and fun, involving wallpaper paste and strips of newspaper–the papier-mâché (“chewed paper”) part of the residency. Layer by layer they build up the creature until each one is rigid, balanced, stable, and reasonably sturdy.  _DSC0571

Phase three is a simple coat of primer paint (although managing 25 kids each with a paint brush and paint can is never simple, despite the fact that Jody makes it seem so). When the primer dries, the students begin adding distinguishing features to their animals–painted feathers and fur, dots, lines, whiskers, paws, and eyes. Talons are created from wire, sharp predator teeth are formed from clay.

A quick  coat of spray varnish and voila! The finished critters will be displayed at the school Science Fair (April 2, 2015, 5:30-7pm at Methow Valley Elementary School).


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_DSC0589This 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. Residency sponsors in the Methow Valley include the the Public School Funding Alliance, ArtsWA, the Methow Valley School District, and the Methow Valley Fund of the Community Foundation of North Central Washington.

INFO: Methow Arts Alliance, 509.997.4004,