Unspoken Messages

Pulling off a one-person art exhibit, from creating to matting to hanging, takes a lot of different skills. Obviously, one has to have produced a body of work which they feel is good enough to show in public. Hannah had done just that. During her stay at Sudbury Valley she spent countless hours drawing and painting in several media and styles. She is patient and meticulous, and each one of her paintings had taken her a great deal of time and effort. By the spring, she had enough pieces to fill all the walls in the dance room – enough to have her first ever one-person show.

Unlike paintings on canvas, those done on paper need a mat and a frame to protect them. The school has a mat cutting apparatus which is a bit complicated to use. Hannah and I met in the art room one day and we cut some mats together, found frames, and the result was lovely. I thought that Hannah was still a bit tentative about how to use the apparatus and so suggested that we get together again a few days later. Hannah agreed, and we set a time to do it.

But Hannah didn’t appear. I don’t like it one bit when anyone blows me off, and this time I was quite upset with Hannah for not showing up or even offering me an explanation. At first I was inclined to show Hannah my irritation, but something made me hold my tongue and wait until I could be calm. When we finally talked she apologized and said that she could do the rest of the mats by herself. I thought: here is eighteen year old Hannah acting like a typical toddler! She doesn’t want help anymore. She wants to be independent, but is not clear on the best way to impart this message to the person who taught her, so she avoids the encounter and gets in trouble. But because she is always pleasant and polite – and also because she is a quick learner – I couldn’t stay angry with her. I realized that she asks for help until she learns how to do something, and then she needs to do it in her own way and in her own time.

Later, Hannah was ready to hang her pictures, but having never set up an exhibit like this before, she had no idea how to do it. So we got together on Thursday morning before the school’s spring Open House, when people from the public-at-large are welcome to see the school and talk to parents, students and staff. Naturally, I was eager to have the exhibit ready, in order to show off the kind of great work students at SVS do! So I was all stressed and in a hurry, while Hannah was relaxed and patient, meticulous and deliberate.Hannah607 But since I had learned my lesson and understood that, with Hannah, all I need to do is show her how to do something and then leave her to do it on her own at her own pace, that is precisely what I did, and what she did. The proof was in a beautiful art gallery display hanging on the dance room wall, in time for all to enjoy at the Open House.

The views expressed on this page are those of the author. They do not reflect the official policy or position of the Sudbury Valley School.