Totem Poles are a monumental effort

June 06, 1997


Staff Writer

Fifteen Hagerstown fourth-graders got some insight into the artistic process and have the monuments to prove it.

Three totem poles were erected Thursday morning on Fountain Rock Elementary School grounds as symbols of the students' achievements in a four-week stone-carving workshop.

Maryland's Artist in Residency program put professional stone sculptor Michael Winger, of Boonsboro, in a classroom to give selected students hands-on experience in the fundamentals of stone carving.

He assigned each student a block of limestone or soapstone, which they molded into Native American heads, symbols or words. The students' finished products were cemented atop one another to form three totem poles 4 feet tall and containing five sculptures each.


For Kevin Sandell, transforming a stone block into the solemn face of a Native American was "the experience of a lifetime," the 10-year-old said.

The students were experimenting with the art of stone sculpting for the first time, learning the use of the hammer and five different chisels.

Cory Mulligan, 9, spoke like an experienced craftsman. "If you smash your fingers, it might hurt for a little bit. But after a while, you get used to it," he said. "When you're older, you won't smash your hands and you will have experience."

As if escaping from schoolwork was not reason enough for Justin Hays, 9, to take the class, he said working with the tools was a bonus.

"I'm not allowed to use a real hammer at my house. But nobody told me that I was too little here," he said. "I felt big."

Winger said it initially concerned him to lead these fourth graders, the youngest group he's taught since he began the state program five years ago. But he was pleasantly surprised, he said.

"I expected them to complain a little more," Winger said. "But once they started seeing an image emerge from stone, they were very excited about it."

Fountain Rock Elementary School Principal Steven Bowers said the dedication and hard work the students invested in their projects impressed him.

Meanwhile, the students said they picked up other traits - patience and perseverance.

"You have to take your time and have to be very patient, because it takes a long time to have everything done," advised Darren Walling, 9.

Winger, whose professional work has been displayed in regional and national galleries, said he enjoyed the opportunity to impart the importance of art to his young students.

"I learn as much from the student as they learn from me," said Winger, who said he admires his students' vivid imaginations. "I'm still trying to see through the eyes of a child."

The Artist in Residency program is funded in part by Maryland State Arts Council grants and helps group professional artists with students for hands-on instructional training in the arts. Winger, who has taught students as old as high school seniors, said Fountain Rock was his first assignment in Washington County.

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