Friday, April 20, 2007

Child Art

My daughter at eight is a devotee of Fra Angelico. She scrutinizes his works and the fruit of her contemplation is readily seen in her sketches. She began drawing at the age of two, the simple primitive circle faces with stick arms and legs. The archetypal circle people soon gave way to more expressive faces, so that at the age of three, her sketches told whole stories. She was and continues to be prolific in her work, which I cannot bear to throw away, so I have dutifully kept her drawings in a trunk which is soon to be full. She has art journals scattered throughout the house, one that is strictly for meditating on the life of the Virgin Mary, another that is for the Passion of Christ, one for her girly-girl princesses and their adventures, one for the warrior princesses that battle dragons, and another for processing daily events in her life.

I, being a fan of Italian Renaissance art, have a huge collection of Madonna images that I've found via the internet. She loves to sit on my lap and look through each of them. We'll tell each other the stories that the pictures seem to be telling us. And later on, she'll share with me her latest interpretations of the Crowning as Queen of Heaven, or the Annunciation, or the Nativity, or an ordinary day in the life of a Blessed Mother with the baby Jesus in a backpack and Mary baking a cake.

Soon, I know that she'll need formal art lessons, and though I've given her some simple art lessons, I love her easy, unconscious natural style. I see my role as helping her see as an artist sees...the soul of story. I want her to continue learning how to see with her innocent child's eyes the different layers that a story presents. With formal art lessons, her focus would have to shift to the mechanics of drawing...and there, I would miss the rich pictures of Mary and her constant companions of angels, one holding up a cookbook while Mary stirs a pot, another angel holding open the door to the oven, and the orchestra of angels holding various instruments serenading Madonna and Child. I know these are fruits of the rich interior life that my daughter has, a love for Our Lady and the Babe given for our salvation. Her schoolwork has been turned into illuminated manuscripts. Her division problems are hidden in the body of dragons, while her solutions are borne upon crusading warrior princesses' broadswords.

I gave her this book, Saints and Angels by Claire Llewellyn for Christmas. It has become her most treasured possession which she carries with her everywhere she goes. Do yourself a favor and buy this book. Here's a site to preview its contents. Since receiving this book, my daughter has started expressing her own interpretation of the Litany of Saints.

Next month, we will be spending three weeks in Italy, and prominent in our itinerary is San Marco Convent in Florence where there is a treasure trove of Fra Angelico paintings. I cannot wait to see her face light up when she sees the paintings in real life.

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