May 29th, 2024

Galt’s Hands-on History session focuses on surrealist self-portraits

By Dale Woodard on October 12, 2021.

Some creative and colourful learning took place Saturday at the Galt Museum.
It was also a valuable education tool as Hands-On History hit the classroom and the canvas.
And it was, quite literally, surreal.
“Hands-On History is a program we’ve run for a long time,” said Carolyn Ben, program assistant at the Galt Museum of the interactive program for adults with children of all ages. “It’s been shut down for almost two years now because of COVID. Hands-On History is basically a program where parents and their kids can come in and they get to do something that’s tied to history in a hands-on aspect. Usually, it’s a craft, but in the past we’ve had dancing, drumming and walks.”
Saturday’s session focused on Surrealist Self Portraits.
“So it’s more general,” said Ben. “The program opens with me giving a talk about what a portrait is. Little kids don’t really know. They know their parents take photos of them, but they don’t really know what a portrait is. I highlight some we have in our collection. We have some really great collections by Blackfoot artists and famous Blackfoot chiefs. We have a really good portrait of George Floyd that a community member did. We talk about why they painted them and what was the purpose in the past and give them an art lesson on the way people painted them.”
Ben said the class introduced the young artists to the idea a portrait doesn’t have to be real. “They can tell you what your emotions are,” she said. “I showed them one by Picasso, which looks nothing like a person. We talked about Picasso, who knew how to draw, drew like that. We showed them some pictures from inside out where all the different emotions have colours. We talked about how you can paint yourself blue and that’s OK.”
The craft is adaptable, said Ben.
“Older kids can do something that’s really complex. It’s also great because we at the Galt can afford to buy art supplies. So the kids got a chance to play with oil pastels. So afterwards I let them play with oil pastels and then with crayons so they can see a difference. They had a lot of fun with it.
“With this one we just encouraged them to go crazy and use whatever colours they want whether they’re your emotions or not and do their own features on different paper.”
Before COVID a good craft day would draw 60 kids, said Ben.
“It was a drop-in program. So for COVID we changed it up a little bit. If you’re over 12 you need a (proof of) vaccination.”
Children 12-and-under are asked to register.
“We’re keeping it 10 to a class,” said Ben. “We have the space and we know people’s names and we can contact trace them and I have time to disinfect everything in between. So it’s a little bit safer.”
In the past, Hands-On History has featured guest artists, including Experiment with beeswax clay modelling with local artist Claire Reid.
“That was in celebration of an exhibition we had on Alberta beekeepers,” said Ben. “She came in and helped us take huge blocks of wax and melt them down. You put different oils in it to make them more pliable. The kids came in and she talked about bees, but then they did sculptures with them. They’re really cool because they warm up in your hands when you make the sculpture and then when it cools it goes hard.”
Ben said she tries to bring in different themes each week.
“One week it’s drawings, the next week it’s paints with blocks. It also gives the kids a chance to experiment with something simple like high quality mixed media paper and acrylics. Here, with a little bit of guidance they get a chance to play with those and they learn a bit of history.”
Next up for Hands on History is Word Art with local artist and author Freyja Catton on Saturday, running from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. at the Galt Museum.
“It’s going to be some painting and some writing and it complements an exhibit coming up on history of TV, television posters and ads. So it plays into that and the kids will again have the chance to play around with some arts supplies and meet an artist.”
For a schedule of events, visit
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