The Chair Lady comes to Churchill“Cease to be a drudge, seek to be an artist.” ~ Mary McLeod Bethune, American educator and civil rights leader
By: Jana Peterson, Pine Journal
“The Chair Lady” – aka Kris Nelson – came to Churchill Elementary School Monday and challenged the entire student body to think differently about where they sit.
The long time art teacher taught them history – King Tut’s tomb produced one of the oldest known examples of the chair – she taught them games, and she taught them how to look at a chair and see something more.
Then she helped them create their own sitting masterpieces. Children from the Early-Five class through second grade made “chair-up chairs” – think of a pop-out card featuring a chair in the middle – while third- through fifth- graders created chair sculptures with newspaper, masking tape and their own imagination.
They made a Bacon Chair, a Stop Sign Chair, a Tapeworm Chair, a Donut [box] Chair and more.
“Once a kid creates something, it becomes a part of them,” Nelson said, smiling as several students dragged their parents into the art room after school to show off their team’s creation.
“Sometimes I want to go visit my own chairs, the ones that I’ve sold,” she added, a little wistfully.
Nelson brought several spectacular pieces of her own to show the kids. Her Vincent Van Gogh chair sat in the corner, the seat and front legs emerging from a two-dimensional framed painting of the back of the chair.
“This was my statement,” Nelson said, noting that the chair/painting was recently displayed at the Duluth Art Institute. “Not all art is in a frame.”
And then there is her “Lockness Monster,” a chair made entirely of recycled items – crushed paint cans, an old battery, a McDonald’s penguin toy, shredded pieces of an old radial tire and an eye made out of a ping pong ball inside an old Tide cap – that she painted a monstrous green and brought to life.
The idea came to her when she found an open lock, discarded by someone who likely lost the key. From that person’s trash grew her fabulous monster.
Nelson said she doesn’t try to impose an idea on the chair, she gets (or is commissioned to execute) an idea, then looks for the chair that fits it.
“Right now I think I have about 200 chairs in storage, just waiting,” said the artist.
She left three of those chairs behind, however, for the third-, fourth- and fifth-grade students to design and decorate themselves.
What do you suppose they will make of those chairs?