SMAC Impact Stories

Supporting the Arts ... Enriching Lives

Arts in the Schools: Yellow Medicine East Schools

Paper: Cut, Fold, Sculpt -Winter 2020-2021 with artist Olga Krasovska

Granite Falls artist and high school art teacher Tamera Isfeld is constantly looking for creative ways to engage her students and her community.  As professional artist Olga Krasovska noted, “Tamera is like a radio station broadcasting creativity- she’s always looking for ideas and working to make those ideas happen in our community.”  The concept for a Southwest Minnesota Arts Council (SMAC) FY21 Arts in the Schools grant titled “Paper: Cut, Fold, Sculpt” came out of a desire to take a unique look at paper- a material that most often is viewed in a two-dimensional fashion.  Paper is commonly used to draw on, print on, paint on and so forth and it is viewed as a flat surface.  


Ms. Isfeld wanted to explore other possibilities using paper to create form in a three-dimensional way.  As she explained, “using paper has infinite possibility- it can tear, it has memory and an awareness.” When you fold it, paper strengthens. You can cut paper, score it, roll it into little balls and by doing so 3D shapes emerge. There are a myriad of types of paper- tissue paper is very fine and fragile, card stock is rigid and strong.  Different weights, strengths, and textures offer unique options for sculpting and many challenges as well.  Tamera said she “wanted her students to start looking at ordinary things in a new way- like flat versus sculpted.”  To help her accomplish this she enlisted the help of award-winning artist and teacher Olga Krasovska. 


This project was unusual for several different reasons- due to the COVID pandemic, schools and businesses had to operate in drastically different ways.  In person meetings were limited to small groups and class schedules allowed these teachers, artists, and students to have five-hour sessions every Friday for five weeks which was a luxury as far as academics go.  Normally, work sessions would be shorter and wouldn’t have allowed the students extended time to focus, explore and create projects from start to finish.  Because these classes had no grades, Ms. Krasovska noted “students were free to just create, free from worry of being judged, free to focus on designing and producing beautiful work.” 


Initially, Olga didn’t know what to expect.  She was trained in the Ukraine at the Teachers Training University in Krivoj Roj and spent nine years teaching and practicing color theory, interior decoration, and painting media to university students.  Working with younger students was brand new and due to her experience teaching more mature students she didn’t discipline them, rather “I talked to them like adults and the students responded accordingly.” 


In the beginning it was a little awkward, explained Ms. Krasovska, “I would ask the students how their projects were going, and I got little or no feedback or that everything was ok.” She was very straight with them and suggested, “forget the ‘Minnesota Nice’ and express yourselves.” While this was at first a little intimidating for young girls, Olga continued, “You need to find your voice and have the courage to speak up for yourselves, otherwise someone else is going to make decisions for you.”  From then on, the students began to open up and express their ideas more freely.  This was one of the most impactful experiences to come out of this project noted Tamera Isfeld and it was totally unexpected. 


Working in pairs, the twelve girls worked on six mannequins to design dresses out of paper.  While it was very labor intensive, the exercise taught these students to collaborate and how to fix mistakes and redo processes.  Starting with a nude photo the students got to play with paper and experiment with how paper might lay on a body or mannequin. 

Tamera Isfeld said, “Olga encouraged them to not only create the art but to explain with confidence and clarity their thoughts about their art, share during an art critique what is working or not and have a discussion on what to do next.”  She noted how communication is so important during collaboration. 


Survey questions were asked of the students before and after the residency: Have you ever seen paper sculpture? Would you like to learn more about alternative ways to sculpt? How do you think visual imagery impacts you and your peers/community?  


Ms. Isfeld continued, “At the beginning, students really didn’t think that paper was something used in sculpting, and most didn’t have answers to how visual imagery impacts others. They knew a little about origami and were curious about what else you could do. Making original designs included starting over more than once, doing a few trial pieces with different types of paper to see how the paper reacted, working through different options and opinions as they created with a partner. This gave them the opportunity to see how an artist creates which can be much different from a class assignment.” 


Students learned about different types of paper and how to think about it from a sculptural sense. They saw how the organic and geometric folds can change the texture, strength and light passing through paper. They examined the physical aspects of paper and how it changes with a few folds to make it stronger, develop different tonal values on paper through folds, bends, creases, and cuts into the paper, and they learned how to sculpt paper. Initially the instructor and artist considered creating a support, however, they were able to get six mannequins, and this really helped with forming the dresses. Additionally, they learned how to combine papers to create a tabletop sculpture and learn how to collaborate on a larger work of art as a group. 


When the project was completed, the dresses were displayed at Heather’s Book Nook and Sew Much More in downtown Granite Falls in the display windows facing Prentice Street. The Granite Falls Area Arts Council also hosted a reception when Covid restrictions are lessened, and there was a newspaper ad for the reception. Posters were put up at school and in the community.  This exposure to the community had a huge impact on the student artists. As Olga Krasovska tells it, “The kids were very proud of their work and that they were hand selected to participate.  They got to work with their hands and create something beautiful that they were able to share with their friends, family, and fellow community members.” This really helped build confidence and inspired many of the students to continue to pursue their artistic talents. 


One of the added outcomes of working during a pandemic was dealing with the isolation.  While it affected everyone, the youth were especially hard hit. With little entertainment and their social interactions curtailed at school, this artist in residence project was very uplifting. Ms. Krasovska said, “It was therapeutic for the girls- they experienced the pure joy of creation. The strong pull of creativity kept them engaged and in the zone.”  Their work also created a buzz around town. Other kids started to come and check in on the girls work.  Normally, when the school bell rings announcing class is finished, students often rush out the door. “That wasn’t the case with these students- they were content to hang out and continue their collaboration.” 


As an artist and teacher, Olga “felt very energized by the project.” The pandemic also affected her work as a professional artist with few opportunities to exhibit her work and no art fairs to participate in.  Interacting with these students and the community had a ripple effect. Other artists and volunteers started cleaning up their studios and shops. Many people were engaged in the community as they were trying to sort out the new realities.  What is normally a solitary occupation working in her studio, Olga found it invigorating to be engaged in the community and the exposure it afforded put her on the radar of many people she had never met before.  “The sum of small effects by doing something that had never done before started to create a tourist attraction.”  People were noticing the dresses in the windows and there was a sense of positive relief. 


“Having these opportunities especially in a small remote community is so important to the creative and 

cultural development of our youth. Without these funds, these creative opportunities just won’t be possible,” said Ms. Isfeld.  “This project was like a magnet with many ‘aha’ moments that drew people in.” New partnerships were created with the City of Granite Falls and the Yellow Medicine Historical Society. “We asked ourselves how we can make a bigger impact?”  The answers continue to unfold with public murals funded by SMAC grants, community theater, music venues and the like.  Ultimately, it’s about people stepping up and making a difference in their schools and towns.  It all started with a vision and access to resources made all the difference in the world. 


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