For about a half-hour, kindergarten students at Whitney Young Early Childhood Center sat listening to artist Jerrod Tobias talk about pollinators, their importance and the importance of making sure pollinators have the right plants to thrive and do their jobs.
When he was done and the students split to work on drawing pollinators or flowers, teacher Erin Patton-McFarren found out just how closely the students had been listening.
“The bees need those,” the students told her, after learning she and a student teacher had gone out to cut down flowers so the students could study them.
The scene played out as part of the Artist in Residence program at Whitney Young, where Tobias is working on his second mural. This one will be on the “butterfly wall,” a 200-foot space leading to the entrance of the school. Tobias told the students this will be the second-longest mural in the city.
Tobias has been painting murals as public art in the city for at least a couple years: a 100-foot mural for the North Anthony Corridor at Firefly Coffee House; a 300-foot Metaform mural on a retaining wall along Columbia Avenue near downtown Fort Wayne; and some smaller works.
Last year, Tobias worked with these same Whitney Young students (as pre-kindergarteners) to come up with the “Nothing without Joy,” mural painted with a fish/underwater theme also near the entrance to Whitney Young.
Tobias works on the underwater mural last spring
The Artist in Residence program has always been a part of the arts curriculum at Whitney Young. How the teachers work with artists can change from year to year, according to Patton-McFarren.
Tobias was first invited to participate last fall after Patton-McFarren saw a television news story about his Metaform mural, the one along Columbia Street near downtown.
“When the city announced the project, I thought it would be exciting for the children to work with an artist who they can see working in the community,” she said.
And see him, they have. With photos of his murals hanging on the white board in the classroom, the students let him know they’ve seen his work.
For Tobias, to have been invited was an honor.
“I have been an instructor privately, and always want to teach others,” he said. “The most wonderful thing about art is sharing the process and experience. I believe it has the power to open people’s hearts and minds. I want to teach kids to believe in their imagination and intuition.”
Tobias, the father of three, said he and his wife believe it is their personal responsibility to help people with art: “We believe it can help everyone grow.”
The inspiration for the pollinator theme this fall came to Tobias last spring when he was painting the fish mural at the school.
That’s when he learned about the school’s garden club. It was natural for the school’s Reggio approach to learning to extend the gardening interest to the mural project about pollinators, Patton-McFarren said.
So, beginning late last month, Tobias met with the kindergarteners, spoke to them about pollinators and began the process of drawing pollinators (birds, bees and bats) and flowers with the students.
Once done, he will turn their drawings into a stencil to use in painting the mural beginning this week. And, the students will once again take their notebooks out and watch.
Other artists who have been, or will be, at the school this year are: Yoga instructor Tiffany Herron of the Yoga Farm; Illustrator Rebecca Stockert; Printmaker Julie Wall of the Hedge; Ceramicist Laura Brandenburg; and Multi-media photographer/artist Daniel Dienelt.
You can see videos of others Artists in Residence by clicking the button below.