The ripple effects of Upper School teacher Rob Michelson's travels to Cuba in recent years continue to be felt at Brentwood. During Upper School Arts Week, we welcomed Cuban artist Lázaro Salsita to conduct hands-on workshops in all three divisions.
Rob explains: "Lázaro Salsita warmly invited Brentwood students into his home and workspace for a two-day collaborative art project in Havana during our Spring Break trip to Cuba. We talked briefly then about how exciting it would be to return the favor and welcome him to our school. At the time, he had just secured a tourist visa to visit New York City to see his teenage son and, after arriving in the U.S. last summer, Lázaro began connecting with artists and educators. He soon realized that a world of opportunities unimaginable for him in Cuba was opening up for him here in America. By September, he had made the decision to stay in the United States and support his ongoing community art project in Havana with money earned here. Over the past 6 months, Lázaro has conducted workshops at several schools and colleges in New York and New England and has participated in a two-week artist retreat in North Carolina. He's so busy, in fact, that we were very lucky to lure him to Los Angeles for Upper School Arts Week."
In order to make the most of his time with us, Rob worked with art teachers Robin Shapiro (LS), Becky Dame-Seidler (MS), and Michael Knight (US) who graciously carved out some time for Lázaro. Although each of his workshops with Brentwood students lasted less than an hour, all present were amazed at how much he and the students accomplished and how much magic he brought into our lives.
Robin Shapiro shares: "Lázaro visited two 1st Grade classes on Wednesday after lunch. The students were super excited to meet someone from another country, especially someone who did not speak English. Jamie Persad, our wonderful administrative assistant in the Main Office, acted as our translator. It was wonderful for the kids to see her in a completely different role, freely speaking both languages. It was even more wonderful for our bilingual students to ask questions in their native tongue in front of their peers. It was a way for them to shine."
Lázaro showed the 1st graders photos of his home and his students, and explained that his home is his studio and his classroom; that they do not recycle in Cuba and have very few materials to work with. So he teaches his students to be resourceful and use found materials, like newspapers and string, to make whimsical sculptures. It was an important reminder for our students about how truly privileged we are to have so many wonderful materials at our finger tips.
After hearing about Lázaro's experience and art making process, Middle School art teachers Rebecca Dame-Siedler and Ignacio Gonzalez decided that his visit would be a terrific complement to their sculpture curriculum. Rebecca shares, "My hopes were to introduce my students, and myself, to a new art technique, while taking the opportunity share in the joy and excitement of creating artworks along side a fellow art enthusiast from another culture."
Lázaro worked with two sculpture tracks from the Middle Division. After a nice introduction about his previous work, he demonstrated his art making technique by drawing analogies between molding newspaper and clay, explaining that newspaper is more readily available in Cuba than clay. Lazaro's lesson was inventive; the students learned to "upcycle" recycled newspaper and string to communicate their artistic vision, creating fruit and/or mini mouse-like figures, which are the subject of Lázaro's work.
Together with Lázaro's guidance, students in every workshop engaged in the playful, creative process that art making inspires. It was a teaching and learning experience on so many levels—cultural, linguistic, and artistic. And we look forward to working with this dynamic artist in the future, whenever his busy schedule allows.