Be careful how you build your nest. You may have to lie in it.
That, in essence, is the moral of a story children can hear at Art and Earth's creative workshops.Sculptor Jean Thorpe and her husband, Verne, began their Payson business as an art gallery but decided to add a few children's instructional classes. Recently, they set up a large part of the building as an indoor "creative park," with murals and sculptures as the setting for storytelling.
"It has almost pushed the store section out the front door," Verne Thorpe said.
"All the stories teach children how to be creative, use their resources and make decisions," Jean Thorpe said.
One of her stories tells of invisible birds that perch on people's shoulders. Every time someone makes a positive decision, the Cree-dit bird will find a twig to add to a nest in the Doright Mountains.
If the same person makes a hurtful decision, the Dee-bit bird will take a twig to its nest in Badlum Gulch. In the end, all people will have to dwell in the land of their largest nest.
"Children learn how to think things through and express their emotions," Mrs. Thorpe said. "It's amazing what they can do if you catch them before they start hiding their emotions." Most of the children who attend workshops are 3 to 15 years old, she said.
She encourages children to make up stories. Groups select an armload of props, think of a problem and then find a way to solve it.
"We had one group decide they were aliens from different planets and didn't speak the same language," she said. "One child realized what they needed was an interpreter. They decided a bush would interpret for them until they could invent a new language."
Lana Smith, who teaches drawing and music at Art and Earth, said nothing is more important than teaching children to think creatively.
"A scientist who hasn't learned to be creative can't do much," she said. "Maybe he can teach what other people have discovered."
Watching television will not make children creative, she said. Inventing art and stories helps children draw on what they know and use it to make something new and concrete, she said.
"I asked the children to draw birds. No two birds looked alike; they all found their own ways to solve the problem."
Solutions can be surprising. When Smith asked a group of 7- and 8-year-olds where clouds come from, one told her out of the tops of the mountains where fire-breathing dragons live. Another said clouds come from Geneva Steel.
Smith plans to open her own children's art center in a year or two. Hers will feature more traditional drama, music and dance. She and the Thorpes hope to establish an annual children's art festival in Payson within the next two years. Verne Thorpe hopes the event will draw national and international groups of young dancers and thespians. The Thorpes also plan to publish several books.
But those plans are for the future. For now, Jean, Verne and Lana are busy promoting their new workshops, offering classes in clay sculpture, dance, music, drama, drawing, "story making" and painting more murals on the "park" walls.
"I once caught Jean painting a mural at 3 a.m.," Verne said.
"I have big hopes for this project," Jean said. "It takes a lot of energy to keep up with your imagination."