Pretty Papers in Paris

Wednesday, July 31, 2013 - 19:00
Arts columnist Elisa Fleener takes a picture of her students during a collage class Fleener co-taught this summer with fellow artist Bonnie Fitzgerald in Paris, France.

The mere mention of Paris stimulates the senses and conjures up many images: The smell of freshly-baked baguettes, the sound of old accordion tunes resonating through the streets, the feel of cobblestone beneath your feet as you walk along to explore museums, historical sites such as the Eiffel tower and castles. It’s no wonder so many artists are drawn to this charming city. This was a city on my ‘bucket list’ to visit some day. So it seemed appropriate to say “yes” to the opportunity to co-teach a paper collage class in Paris with artist Bonnie Fitzgerald of internationally known company Maverick Mosaics. I’ve always loved doing paper collages since I was a child. Making a collage is another art form I use to express my creativity. Of course I wanted to teach this art class with as much knowledge about it as I could. Some interesting facts I found out and conveyed to the class: Collage is a French word, from coller, meaning to glue. This art form has been done for hundreds of years but it was cubist artists Georges Braque and Pablo Picasso who coined the term “collage” in the beginning of the 20th century when collage became a distinctive part of modern art. The creative process for this class began when Bonnie and I selected multi colored papers, maps of Paris, and cut out words and pictures from magazines for the students to choose from as they collaged the front and back covers of journal books they would use to document their trip to Paris.

“These journals will be incredible souvenirs and keep sakes for families and kids to have for years to come,” said Bonnie.

On the third day of our visit to Paris, still feeling a bit jet lagged, our escort, Marion Calcagno, guided Bonnie and I, our students, (varying in ages from 15 to 50 years old) from our hotel to the botanical garden, Jardin des Plantes. This garden close to the left bank of the Seine River was once a royal garden of medicinal herbs. Today this 64-acre garden houses a zoo, a Natural History museum and a labyrinth. We didn’t have to walk too far through this large garden to find several picnic tables in the shade to teach the collage class. After laying out the various paper choices, decoupage glue, paintbrushes, and giving a lesson in this ancient art form, the class got busy working on their collages. Just as Paris is known for its individuality in architecture, the students in the class conjured up their own artistic individuality for their journals.

“While everyone else in the class cut everything evenly and straight I like the way I did mine by randomly tearing the paper before I glued it on,” student Daisey Costello said. “I used lots of different colored papers and silver leaves. The silver leaves remind me of Paris. I will use the journal to paste in my tickets from the Eiffel tower and photos of my trip.” Another student, Gwendolyn Rak, loved collaging in the park for a different reason.

“It was fun, I used Paris maps and pink papers on the front and back of my collage and it turned out just the way I envisioned,” she said.

As I went around to help students with color choices for their collages I noticed the lines of young French school children passing by us. Just as they looked on at us with curiosity I was curious to see what our guide was designing for her journal. She built orange and black papers into triangular patterns and embellished the pattern with magazine words “Finding Calm.”

“I found collaging very relaxing, and wanted everyone to go on their tour without me so I could continue working on my collage,” Marion said.

Unfortunately, Marion promised to get me an espresso before we left in an hour for the village of Giverney where impressionist painter Claude Monet’s house and garden is. Co-teaching the collage class with Bonnie Fitzgerald was a great lifetime experience, and she was complimentary of me as well.

“Collage is a sister art form to mosaic. Elisa kept me aware of the fine art aspect of collage. And she was very supportive. It’s always a joy to co-teach.” Bonnie said.

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