14. Play-Pretties


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DAY AFTER DAY scheduled tasks spin out time and strength to weave a curtain of seemingly secure order against the world outside. Life becomes a routine of getting the job done. Some call it a rut, but it is more. It's a plodding try for a better tomorrow. However, orderly systems are against nature. So they blow up. Suddenly something unplanned occurs and I am jerked out of my appointed rounds. Tonight I had company. Guests for dinner! Monday is a bad day for social activities. It begins at three-thirty a.m. It is fouled up with Friday's uncorrected papers and no prepared lessons or busywork for the little ones, and thus double duty to get ready for Tuesday's rush. But tonight was just for pleasure, and routine to the four winds.


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Bill and Sally came down from Las Delicias to see the pottery we have been making. We sang a few songs for Sally, and Bill took over our art class with a lecture on good taste. When the bus left, the visitors were mine alone. It was so good to have them that I ignored the chaotic state of my den. It takes more than an hour a day to make an uncluttered home out of one small room. The open shelves Bill put in for me last summer are crowded with phonograph records, school supplies, files of Little Cowpunchers, two dozen books, piles of school catalogues, old registers, and elementary-grade tests. It would be a chore to inventory the odds and ends of water colors, ink and tempera bottles, correction fluid tubes, clay pots, letters, kodak pictures, cosmetics, toilet articles, sewing equipment (for mending only), colored chalk, note paper and envelopes that cover my big table.

My nerves will frazzle when I try to find all the materials I took off the small table and stuck out of sight to clear the way for the dinner party. Hurriedly I jammed articles into suitcases, table drawers already bulging, and packing boxes on the floor. While doing so I ruefully remembered the smart New England neatness these walls enclosed when my predecessor lived here. Nothing on the big table but a bowl of flowers and a magazine. Nothing on the small table but a carefully folded bright table-cover. Rugs on a floor not obscured by boxes of school-lunch provisions. No little dogs curled up on the bed. No birds scattering seeds over the little drainboard. H. didn't have hundreds of papers, manuscripts, letters, pictures, watercolor daubs, art materials, and this and that of medical supplies strewn about everywhere. No clay pots


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“It is natural for me to see more in these crude clay pots than anyone else.”


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were tempering in her wood stove. No old magazines for cut-outs, posters, and models were piled under the tables. And goodness only knows what she did with the paper flowers and plants in tin pails given to her by her pupils.

While we sat crowded at my little table, Sally—happily possessed of a home having spacious rooms and many closets and cupboards—put her mind to my problem. But thought alone cannot add cubic measure. Building supply cupboards, even if there were adequate space, cannot be considered. No money. By careful management Bill makes the school-district funds come out even with the school expenditures. The irony of one living in a tuza's nest asking an artist to give a talk on good taste! But Bill is a godsend to these children and I want them to have full advantage of him. As for me, I pitch in and try. These excerpts from Little Cowpuncher give evidence of the effort: ‘‘ THE ART PICTURES

Saturday at four o'clock we met Mrs. Bourne at the Library Park in town and went to the Temple of Music and Art to see the pictures by the artists of Tucson hanging there on exhibit. There were some of the most beautiful pictures and also some very skillful work done in water colors. In the next room were some lovely landscapes of missions made by using ink in different ways. We were fortunate to have a chance to see those works of art and I'll always remember it. —Edward Hernández

’’ ‘‘ OUR PROGRESS IN ART

For a few weeks we have been drawing faces, practicing on hair, noses, eyes, and shading parts to show where the light hits. We have been drawing faces from our own pupils and have some of them on the walls. If anyone would like to see them you have our permission to criticize them. We are not very good and not too bad.

Before this we were practicing on landscapes in water colors. We are supposed to do a little bit of everything. We make land-scapes, pottery, drawing heads and features, experimenting with


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warm and cool colors, and printing our Little Cowpuncher. We have a teacher who gives her spare time for such things. And sometimes Bill Ronstadt our school board clerk who is a real artist comes to criticize our work and give us ideas. We appreciate all this great help. —Socorro Aros

’’ ‘‘ ON ART APPRECIATION

In showing us the difference between a poor picture and a true picture Bill said that a really good picture doesn't have to have every bit of details and all different colors. Just something that gives you room for your imagination for a long time.

For instance some calendars have pretty pictures but you get tired of looking at them. He showed us some prints so beautiful that they give stimulation for your imaginations and pleasure forever.
—Mary

’’

Our trial-and-error art studies have had, I am sure, forceful influences. What the children have learned about form and color will stay with them. Several besides Edward are now willing to try self-revealing compositions. As for Edward, that talented boy instead of copying and following instructions is now confident enough to work out his own ideas. An example is the original line drawing for the frontispiece of our March issue. He had been coming down with a cold that day, running a slight temperature. His father and I worried. He has had pneumonia twice, both times in March, and he has come to have a dread of that month.

When school opened I saw his distress and suggested that he had better go to my room and lie down. No. He wanted to see what was on the program for the day. It wasn't art, but my sympathy made me say: “When you feel able to draw maybe you could do the front page for Little Cowpuncher.”

“I feel like drawing now,” he said, perking up.

He sat chewing on his pencil for awhile thinking up something appropriate for our Library Books number. In


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a few minutes I became absorbed in primary reading classes and forgot him. When he sent Víctor up with his drawing I cried out in delight. He had drawn a bookcase full of books, labelling the top shelf “Nature Books,” his favorites; the middle shelf “Cowboy Stories,” Ramón's choice; and the third shelf held a row of encyclopedias. He and Ramón sat with volumes in their hands at a little table, discussing their reading. Dear Edward! A joy to a teacher all too used to hearing “I can't” and “What shall I make?”

But back to the dinner party. As I have indicated, Monday is always a short-on-sleep day. Yet it has one advantage: groceries are more plentiful and fresher. I had a chunk of boiled ham I had intended to lunch on for several days. And two small cans of yams made a dish.

Incidentally Monday is special for the school-lunch kids because it is hamburger day! We have no ice so it is the only day they get fresh meat.

The lunch program, sponsored by a state branch of a federal relief organization, is a pesky nuisance. Of course I don't have to do it. It is a voluntary thing—up to the teacher. I am bullied by a horror of hunger so that I must take on whatever underfed creatures come within sight and sound of me. In the fall, the Pima County Schools instituted an optional program, endowed by relief money known as the “Governor's Fund,” so that teachers could serve hot cocoa to underweight youngsters. A sixth-grade girl wrote a thank-you note for our December issue: ‘‘ THANK YOU FOR THE COCOA

Last month the Government of Arizona began to give the Baboquívari School children some cocoa, and lots of them have gained. Here are some of the names:


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  1. Arturo Aros has gained 5 lbs.
  2. Pancho Aros has gained 7 lbs.
  3. Herlinda Badilla has gained 4 lbs.
  4. Ramón Aros has gained 3 lbs.

We thank the Government very much.—Herlinda Badilla

’’

But in February there was an upheaval in relief administrations. They discontinued the Governor's Fund and substituted an optional hot lunch program which was several weeks getting set and was snarled up with red tape. Even now, some time later, the lunches are bought from the teacher's private funds. So far, no reimbursement. Reason enough for some of the schools to discontinue the program. I snatch at straws. It is sad to think of hungry children all over the world, and especially those in food-rich America. But sufficient unto one boldly clucking hen are the chicks she can get under her wing.

Pascual sometimes complains about the monotonous task of making the cocoa; but he can sit in the rocker and keep warm, look over my books, and perhaps feel superior from his intimate knowledge of my disgraceful housekeeping.

At 11:45 a.m. I dismiss the little ones, warn the big ones that rioters will get no orange, and take over the sandwich making. We have no dishes or cooking utensils (save my big kettle for the cocoa) so it is sandwiches, hot cocoa, cookies, and oranges.

There are fourteen on the lunch list, the others being of normal weight; but I have fudged a little and each of the pupils on roll gets an orange and a cup of cocoa (bringing his own cup). Sandwiches vary. Mondays, hamburger (the favorite!); Tuesdays, peanut butter;


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Wednesdays, eggs; Thursdays, jelly; Friday, canned tuna. In spite of many explanations and much weight inspection, the children—except the eighth graders—still look upon the sandwiches as dainties acquired by favoritism or good luck. To understand this, consider a permanent diet of frijoles and tortillas. Teddy is plump, but her six-year-old heart would break if she didn't get cocoa with her thin sister Marcela. Inez Jane, (thirteen pounds underweight by our chart) and Bill are on the lunch list, but not Jack who still has the soft curves of infancy. He stands quietly under the tamarisk in front of my door while the sandwich tray is being passed. Nothing is said. But there just happens to be one left over for him.

The Aros kids have the rather engaging Mexican custom of sharing with their parents. When you give something to the little ones their coattails pop around the corner and down the line to My-Mother. They seldom share with brothers and sisters, but invariably divide treats with parents.

H. said she gave an apple a day to have her wood brought in. I find candy more convenient. I get small pieces, wrapped, so that a handful will go round. The presence of visitors this evening didn't interrupt our daily wood routine. Chelo came first.

“You want some wood?” she asked softly.

When she brought her armload her payment was a pink candy Easter egg and she made tracks down to My-Mother with her “surprise.” Pili came running to bring his quota. A moment later Meli, three and a half years old, began piping outside my window: “M's Bone, I wan-some-good?”


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When she puffed in with three tiny sticks, for fun I asked her if she wanted a banana, an apple, or candy.

“Candies.”

“How many do you want?”

“Two.”

With a pink egg clutched in one grubby little hand and a yellow one in the other she pattered out, letting the screen door slam.

Bill turned to Sally and said: “Sister spends nine dollars and eighty-nine cents a month that way.”

After dinner he settled himself in the rocking chair and Sally and I reclined somewhat on the studio couch he designed and built for the teacher's room last summer. It is a good bed, with nice rows of bookshelves for its headboard. One night a little spider crawled out of the books into my ear; but she vacated when I turned the flashlight in on her.

The window curtain drawn, we were now out of sight of the curious children but they played near enough to be noticed in case anyone happened to look out and care to see some fancy roping or hopscotching. The boys in the next room were unusually quiet. No singing. Bill's voice is too good at penetrating partitions to be missed. The story in Little Cowpuncher reported how the children joined the party: ‘‘ THE NIGHT GAME

Monday night Mr. and Mrs. William Ronstadt had supper with Mrs. Bourne and at night they played a game. Mrs. E. B. came out and said, Don't you have some marbles to play a game? Yes, said Pancho I have some. Christmas all the boys got marbles but now Pancho has all the marbles. He won them and keeps them in a little sack.


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When Pancho brought the bag of marbles Mrs. Bourne said Come in childrens and see us play.

The game is a board and it has twelve holes. Some count for 100 and some count for 10 or 5 or other numbers. And so and so. They put the marbles on the board and try to make them go into the holes with big numbers. When Bill's turn came we all said Achíscala and the marbles went out of the track. When Sally's turn came we said Cién, Cién and it came and fell in the hole of one hundred. When Mrs. Bourne's turn came Arturo and I were praying on our knees for her to win the game from Bill. But Bill won it.
—Ysidra Aros

’’

Bill likes to teach. He likes anything related to art. Or life. This school is his personal interest—not merely a civic duty. Perhaps he, too, cannot see where these children are heading; but he takes satisfaction in seeing their progress as individuals. We both want to teach them, and he teaches a fascinating subject. Probably the happiest study in the world is learning to create something beautiful and good. Sherwood Anderson has written immortal prose on the relationship of men and the materials they work with. Our country is slowly finding money, time, and thought to devote to the encouragement of its young who are especially talented. What of those who are not? They also like to use their heads and hands in the enjoyment of creation. I wish these children (many of whom will never go beyond this elementary classroom) could have practical vocational training. Not that I want them to find an easy way to make a living. I hope they every one will have to work hard. I worry about what little work they do—excepting Edward, Luis, Ramón, and Pancho, for I know that in a sense work is their salvation.

By keeping my little cowpunchers busy with their hands (art), and feet (dancing), and voices (singing),


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there is a chance they may be inveigled into using their heads. If the things we do are showy it is because we like them and we hope to interest people outside our isolation, bringing us closer to their world.

We would achieve more competence if we concentrated on only one extracurricula activity, for instance, writing—a field in which practice probably yields better harvests than in any other. But how about dancing, play-acting, baseball, water-colors, and pottery-making? We cannot be specialists for this is an elementary school—introductory experience for pupils of different talents and tastes.

Our writing has a definite goal: to bring the world out to us. Bill gets the credit for the drawing and painting. But pottery, as we make it, is my own particular “baby.” Like Little Cowpuncher, it began at Redington School, far off on the San Pedro River. It grew out of three factors: the clay my little car was so often stuck in; an article in Normal Instructor; and the need of Christmas gifts for parents. Also there was a happy coincidence. Our school at Redington was situated on a little mesa that had been the site in 1697 of a Sobáipuri Indian settlement visited by the Spaniards. Among the visitors was the soldier-historian Captain Cristóbal Bernal. The surface of the mesa abounds with broken bits of ancient pottery. The kids would go out at recess and bring me handfuls of these shards impressed by their strange beauty. It seemed to mean something for all of us. We experimented with some of the clay.

Our products were exhibited at the Pima County Fair, the Office of the County Superintendent of Schools,


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and the Tucson Chamber of Commerce. We sold a considerable number at ten and fifteen cents each and used the money for materials for Little Cowpuncher. A newsreel scout came out and took our pictures while we were making pottery and sold the “documentary” to a national newsreel company. But when I lost contact with the Redington kids I thought I never wanted to get my fiingers in “mud pies” again.

When Constance Smith, my superintendent, sent me to Baboquívari School she said: “There's some good clay in the Poso Nuevo country.”

“Nothing doing!” I declared, my heart aching for the cherished and skillful little hands that had delighted me at Redington.

I had been here a few weeks when Mrs. Smith came to visit and to bring us a picture show. She slyly brought along samples of our Redington pottery and dropped broad hints to the children. One day Edward pinned me down.

“Oh, it's lots of work. Takes lots of time,” I answered. “And besides we don't have any clay near the school.”

The next day he brought some. He had tried to fashion three little unbaked figures from unstrained red clay he had found along the road. I gave him a carton and told him to bring some to school. That was all we needed to get us into it up to our necks.

Surely there must be a primitive urge in the human race toward clay manipulation. It is of course the oldest known form of art. Anthropologists consider it the most ancient of human industries, preceding agriculture and


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domestication of animals. Some scholars even give it credit for fostering the first inventions and mechanical developments. It would hardly be possible to overestimate the interest in humanity in this mother of arts. I like to think of the loving appreciation and proud care originally given to the fine specimens of ceramics in our museums.

Mexican-Americans that I know seem to feel self-conscious and furtive about their native culture and arts. They have not maintained a pride in teaching traditional crafts to their children as they did before our public school systems absorbed them. Apparently, some of the Indians, Indians of the Southwest, aloof and clannish, have kept their arts. At any rate I am glad when a child brings in a suggestion about clay-mixing, smoothing, and firing that was given to him by a grandmother or some old tío.

These children find our “pots” fascinating. They are easy to decorate. They make fine displays of form and color when grouped together. They satisfy the child's impulse to pick up his “play-pretties” and carry them around. I myself like to handle them. Tonight I unpacked a box I had ready to take to town. Bill and Sally and I got down on the rug and spread them out in the space in the center and handed them around in admiration. Socorro's lovely little bowls, a nest fitting into each other perfectly, all round and smooth and delicately colored, took Bill's eye.

“I'd give a left leg for this,” he said enthusiastically. But I couldn't part with them. I'm losing Socorro this year. I gave him Luis's bowl with the bright, stylized


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design, and I confess it hurt to see him take it away with him.

It is natural for me to see more in these crude clay pots than anybody else. As I look I see the restless chapped brown hands that formed them, the absorbed faces of the children as they painted them—faces shining with the happy vitality of expressive activity.

The experiment has helped develop ingenuity and resourcefulness in the girls and boys. (But oh, the time it takes!) They smear the desks with mud, waste soap, and paper towels, sneak into the carefully mixed clay I have earmarked for a special purpose. But not mischievously. The smallest kids, busy as little beavers, spend extra time and energy making toy figures and doll dishes to play with. In a way it is constructive. It keeps them from spitball throwing and tripping up classmates.

Mrs. Ewing, from Illinois, who came out from town to see our pictures and pottery and hear us sing compared our school activity to that of Montessori. No, the only extraordinary thing we are doing is to try to teach children instead of teaching a course of study.

When there is no clay the small children who have so much surplus time use an alarming quantity of crayons and water colors. There is a constant stream of colored daubs being brought to my desk. They seem to think I have an endless need for lean horses and purple cows. The Aroses all sense that I am thrilled by beauty. They call me out of my room to see a fiery sunset in a jagged mass of pastel colors; or a full moon bulging up out of the dark peaks of the Santa Rita Mountains. They swamp


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me with wild flowers and pretty rocks. Chelo, Pili, and Meli spend hours down in the arroyo picking up special pebbles and curiosities for me.

Pancho capped the climax, bringing in a full-grown land turtle, on horseback. I heard him telling the little kids in Spanish that he was going to give something to the maestra, so I was ready to radiate pleasure when he called at my door. But when I saw the unhappy gift my face must have betrayed my dismay.

“She eats grass,” he hastily assured me. “You can take her to your ranch to put in your garden.”

And poor “Tillie the Toiler” scooped a path around the tight ocotillo pickets in my garden fence until Uncle Jim left the gate open and she escaped.

Perhaps this intense enterprise of life enjoyment was brought upon me to some extent by a suggestion in Edward Eggleston's Hoosier Schoolmaster: “The artist of originality will work courageously with the material he finds in his environment.”

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