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Artist gets on kids' level

March 06, 1997

By CLYDE FORD

Staff Writer, Charles Town

CHARLES TOWN, W.Va. - Charles Jupiter Hamilton has exhibited his artwork in New York City, Boston and Washington, D.C. But on Wednesday morning the only critics he had to please sat cross-legged on the basketball court of South Jefferson Elementary School.

Student artists got the chance to meet a real painter and sculptor on Wednesday when Hamilton lectured to them on his artwork and the creative process.

"It was cool how he could just go and make stuff that quick," said Sean Cox, 11, a fifth-grader at South Jefferson High School.

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This week, Hamilton will lecture to an estimated 3,000 students at 18 assemblies at nine schools, said board of education spokeswoman Jill Nau.

On Saturday, he will attend the 7th annual Fine Arts Festival at Jefferson High School. The festival, from 10 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., will feature student artists, musicians, actors and singers.

Hamilton, 49, of Hurricane, W.Va., spoke with enthusiasm to the children, explaining how he sees shapes in wood and uses bright colors in his paintings to highlight different moods.

He demonstrated how he creates his wood sculptures, using ordinary power tools such as chain saws, grinders, routers, jig saws and drills.

While he lectured on various art concepts, he also kept the language at a level where the children could grasp his ideas.

"Some people say it's my mentality, my kid-like ways," he said later, explaining how he was able to relate well with the children.

At night he's been holding sculpture workshops for the county's art teachers.

Judy Chesley, the art teacher at North Jefferson and South Jefferson elementary schools, said she hopes having a professional artist on hand will help inspire her budding artists.

Two years ago she and Blue Ridge Elementary School art teacher Tara Spaid saw Hamilton at a seminar at Marshall University.

"When we met him in Huntington (W.Va.) we could see he'd be good with the students," Chesley said.

Eventually they were able to obtain a state grant and raise donations from the school board, the local cable television service, and others. A Charles Town motel gave the artist and his wife free lodging for the week.

While some states are cutting the amount of money spent on arts education, Judy Chesley said she's received strong support from her schools and the Jefferson County Board of Education.

Art education is important "because it's one of the things that some students can do well in and it builds their self esteem," she said.

"What people don't understand is I'm teaching creativity, not art," Hamilton said. "They can translate that into anything-if they're a banker or if they become president of the United States. Some of our presidents have needed more creativity in their problem solving."

Art education also helps teach about culture, he said.

"Culture is the fabric of our society," Hamilton said.

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