Alisyn Hamilton, Meet the Artist and Teacher Inspiring Young Van Goghs’

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An art program that brings out “the artist” in every student. The popular Sherman School Art Show now in its twenty-third year. Award-winning mosaic self-portraits and artwork by young artists.

Who is the driving force behind these accolades? Why, it’s the inspirational Sherman School art teacher, Alisyn Hamilton.

If you, your child, or grandchild has attended the Sherman School over the past 23 years, then you know exactly who Mrs. Hamilton is. If you don’t know her, then perhaps you should, especially if you are an art enthusiast or an aspiring artist yourself. After all, she also happens to be a renowned local artist, painter, and art teacher with her own studio! First and foremost, Mrs. Hamilton is…

The Sherman School’s Creative Art Teacher

Creativity begins while sitting on a stool at an art table with Mrs. Hamilton in her vibrant and inviting classroom. The first interview question asked was “what is rewarding about your job and what do you love about it?” She replied matter-of-factly, “my first passion is for art and my second passion is for working with children. This is as simple as it gets. I knew by the 8th Grade that I would be an art teacher and it always felt like the perfect fit for me.”

She then added, “I get to do what I love every day and I watch the students develop as artists. At the Sherman School, it is a true gift to see them grow their talents over a nine-year period, starting in Kindergarten through the 8th Grade.”

“What is your secret for getting children to be at their creative best?” was the next question. Mrs. Hamilton revealed some of the techniques that she uses for “getting the kids to be in a good place” for the creative process to start.

“First, we sit together as a group while I demonstrate the lesson’s process. Then, my students brainstorm for solutions as they go. I provide them with structure, but freedom within that structure, to stimulate their creativity. For example, I may give them a limited color palette to work with and a clear direction to move in, but then they have the freedom to take a chance so they can gain the confidence needed to be creative.”

Mrs. Hamilton continued to share, “I try to work individually with each student and give him or her a compliment about a creative strength. I like to give encouragement to help build confidence so they can explore ways to be artistic on their own.”

With an all-knowing sigh, she said “unfortunately, the bell is a bummer. Often, forty minutes isn’t enough time for children at all age levels to focus and develop their work. Once they are focused, they take it from there, and I only need to check-in on them ever so often.”

Art Supplies and Field Trips Abound

Another secret to her students’ success as young artists are the art supplies they get to work with. She said “our annual art budget enables us to purchase good, high quality art materials for our artists to use.” She finds this to be very important to the art program.

Mrs. Hamilton said that “the Administration is always receptive, too, about scheduling field trips each year.” For instance, the 5th Graders have gone to the nation’s oldest museum, the Wadsworth Atheneum Museum of Art, in Hartford; and the New Britain Museum of American Art. The 6th Graders have gone to the Metropolitan Museum of Art in Manhattan. Many middle school grades have also visited the Yale University Art Gallery in New Haven through the years.

She added “before the students go on a field trip, they have an art assignment that relates to what we will be seeing in the museum. For example, I have had some classes make Greek urns. Then, when we went to the Met, they were awestruck to see the actual red figure/ black figure ceramic pieces like those they made.” Another year, she took a group of 6th Graders to the Met to view the Roman mosaics they were studying and creating in class. “They were simply amazed at what they were seeing,” she said.

Mrs. Hamilton takes pride in giving her art students an extended appreciation for what they are doing in the classroom. “This spring, the 6th Grade will be going to The Met. They are studying ancient Greek and Roman culture in Social Studies, Language Arts, and Art. Students will have an opportunity to view artifacts from these periods and to write about it. This creates an interdisciplinary unit that brings classroom lessons and experience together for them. Right now, we are starting a unit on Abstract / non-objective art with this class. In the same field trip, they will view work by many of the artists we are currently studying.”

The Sherman School Art Show

The absolutely awe-inspiring Sherman School Art Show is something that many families in the Sherman Community look forward to attending every year, and for a very good reason…

This student art show is a sensory overload experience and it is an amazing exhibit to see. Over 1,000 pieces of two-dimensional and three-dimensional children’s artwork are prominently on display. Every single child in the school participates, from the Kindergarten through the 8thGrade.

“Each child exhibits at least one flat piece of artwork and one three-dimensional sculpture; but, many talented children may have several additional pieces included. The SAIL Preschool Program at the Sherman School is also encouraged to submit the young children’s artwork,” she said.

Now in its 23rd year, the celebrated annual art show has never missed a beat. Mrs. Hamilton recalls “only once did the show take place outside of the school, when the Sherman School was under renovation. That year, the Sherman Jewish Community Center graciously opened their doors to us.”

When asked “how many volunteers are needed and what kind of preparation is involved to pull off this show every year,” Mrs. Hamilton said “about 30 volunteers have their hands in the process. This year, we have an assistant working on the art show one day a week with us. Mrs. Jody Clark, our wonderful fulltime Art Paraprofessional, also works closely with me to make it all happen. Her organizational skills, warm and friendly manner, and her willingness to do whatever may be needed keeps us on track every step of the way.”

She added “the hours are countless and it’s a big effort. We start preparing for the art show in January up until the day of the show, and this is just for preparing the artwork for display. Many volunteer parents take home artwork to mount, usually about 20 pieces at a time. I don’t allow the students to assist with this because if something happened to the artwork they would be responsible. That’s too much pressure on them.” She also said “many volunteers help to set-up and take down everything. The art show wouldn’t be possible without their ongoing support.”

When asked “how do you motivate children to produce great pieces of artwork, their personal best, throughout the year?” Mrs. Hamilton replied, “The show itself is a great incentive and motivator because all of the children know that their artwork is going to be displayed.”

She added, “I like to have the children judge the artwork from the other grades. This brings out the constructive art critics in them. It also motivates them to look at everything objectively. Each student views the entire show with a partner and considers shape, color, design and craftsmanship in the work they see. Together, they select two pieces they would like to see win the show. The first winner is from the Kindergarten through the 5th Grade and the second winner is from the 6th Grade through the 8th Grade. Once the students decide then, together, they cast their ballots.”

Mrs. Hamilton shared that “each year, we work with our music teacher, Mr. Steven Trinchillo, arranging for many student musicians to perform during the evening reception and while the Ice Cream Social is also taking place. These students enjoy entertaining the guests while they see the show.”

Award-Winning Student Artists

When asked about “what scholarships and awards are available to Sherman School art students?” Mrs. Hamilton replied “scholarships are mostly awarded to high school students through the Connecticut Scholastic Art Awards program, sponsored by the Connecticut Art Education Association. This amounts to over a million dollars in scholarships. At our level, we prepare our students for moving in that direction.”

“Each year, we participate in the Connecticut Scholastic Art Awards program. All Connecticut art teachers can submit up to four pieces of student art. This is a very difficult choice for us to make,” she said. “This year, an 8th Grader, Amelia Moschitta, won ‘gold key’ for her self-portrait mosaic, a project that our school is now known for. If a student wins a ‘gold key’, he or she moves on to the national competition with thousands of other artists. One year, one of our students won a ‘gold key’ in the national competition also. It’s a wonderful thing for children to be recognized for their creative efforts in art,” she said. Each year, winning artwork is on exhibit at the University of Hartford’s Silpe Gallery, and their awards ceremony honors these students.

A Local Painter and Adult Art Teacher, Too

Before Mrs. Hamilton became a full time art teacher for the Sherman School, her husband built an art studio in their barn for her in Gaylordsville. To this day, she regularly paints in her studio and also teaches art classes on Saturdays to adults and students of all ages.

Her favorite mediums to work in are oils and acrylics. Her paintings have appeared in numerous art shows and galleries locally as well as in Manhattan through the years. Mrs. Hamilton is now almost exclusively local, in Litchfield and Woodbury. Her artwork has appeared at the Sherman Library, the White Silo Barn and Winery, and at the Merwinsville Hotel Art Show in Gaylordsville.

More About the Teacher and Artist

Like every teacher, she once was a student. Mrs. Hamilton studied at the American University in Washington, DC, where she became certified in Art Education for Grades Pre-K through the 12th Grade. She also began her Master’s Degree in Art Education at SUNY College at Buffalo, in New York, and completed the degree with a Master’s in Education at Western Connecticut State University.

When asked “who is your favorite artist or artists?” Mrs. Hamilton immediately declared her passion for the world-famous Post-Impressionist, Vincent Van Gogh. “Ever since I was a child I was drawn to his work. Even in middle school, I used to look at Van Gogh prints all the time. As I got older, I appreciated his work even more and love the depth of spirit in his paintings. There’s no doubt this artist was a brilliant colorist. There is something that is magnetic about his work that continues to draw us in.”

“Mary Cassatt and Henri Matisse are also favorites. But, I also like Medieval and Contemporary Abstract work as well. Really, the whole spectrum!” she said with consideration. “My choice of a favorite changes depending on my mood or where I am in my life. Through it all, Van Gogh remains a consistent for me.”

SAVE THE DATE

Sherman School Art Show: Wednesday, May 13 and Thursday, May 14 

Exhibit Hours: 8:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m.

Art Show Reception and SEA Sponsored Ice Cream Social: Wednesday, May 13

Hours: 6:30 p.m. to 8:00 p.m. with live musical performances by students.

Admission to the Art Show, Reception, and the Ice Cream Social are free and open to all.

Article and photo by Alicia Sakal. This original article ran in the February 25, 2015 Edition of the Citizen News.

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