Thank you to artist Mr. Milosz Koziej Ms. Maja Steczkowska, Deputy Director of the Polish Cultural Institute New York for providing WHSAD students with this opportunity. We would also like to thank Heather Butts and HEALTH for Youths for donating the supplies that were used during the workshops.
The Polish Cultural Institute New York came to WHSAD for a workshop on Venetian Plaster, an ancient technique commonly used to mimic marble. This was part of a series titled “Dare to be Copernicus”, made to inspire students to go against the status quo and follow their passions. Nicolaus Copernicus was a man of many hats, being secretary, doctor, diplomat, law maker, economist and a translator; however, he is most famous for his hobby of astronomy. Working throughout the Renaissance, life changing discoveries were being made across Europe, from art, to culture, to science; it was the time to explore and change. At the time, everyone believed that the Earth was the center of the universe, and all the planets, stars, and the sun circled around it. Through charts, calculations, and his advanced education, Copernicus was able to prove this theory wrong. This changed the way people viewed the universe outside of our atmosphere and helped pave the way for astronomers and astronauts to make future discoveries. With the common theme of exploration and discovery throughout the Renaissance, Copernicus wasn’t the only one involved.
Copernicus worked mainly in Poland but also studied in Italy, where the ancient plastering technique we now call Venetian Plaster was discovered. Copernicus likely saw this style covering the walls where he lived and worked. Not only was it probably common throughout his day to day life, it is another example of a result of the Renaissance. According to Building and Design teacher, Mr. Crockford, “Culture is everything we humans do, make, speak, create. We look at art from other cultures, other time periods, through the lens of our current cultural moment in history, so we see it differently than others have in the past, or in another part of the world. But we make some kind of connection as we try to see things how they see things.” This is exactly what this workshop did, by experiencing culture hands on the students were able to better see the world through Copernicus’s eyes.
During this workshop, Mr. Milosz Koziej, an artist who works with Venetian Plaster, taught the students some basic techniques. Unlike paint, the plaster is a very thick, almost silicone like, material, so instead of being applied with a brush, it is applied with a trowel, a flat metal device with a handle. Additionally, a smaller metal scrape works to prevent plaster from drying out and ruining the tools, with the help of a wet rag. Between these three, and some plaster of course, that’s all you really need. However, finding the rhythm between the tools can be harder than it seems. It takes some practice and really teaches you to admire the work of a master. But by the end it was all worth it, and students walked away with a better understanding and a unique piece of art. WHSAD Junior, Oscar Ixcamparij said, “The aftermath of the process was like a reward of the patience that it took to apply and spread the plaster on the plywood.”
Despite the patience it took, the students still had the opportunity to let their artistic spirit out and experiment. Mr. Milosz really inspired us to be as creative and imaginative with this process as possible. WHSAD Senior, Lolo Iberle, commented, “The process I enjoyed the most was when we got to add the second coat because it felt like that was when we got to add our creativity and ideas into it.” Each student made their own colors using dye mixed into the regular plaster. Some students used more texture, some flattened out their work as best as possible, but everyone’s piece came out vastly different and uniquely special. On what she wished students would take from the experiences during in the workshop, Ms. Maja Steczkowska, Deputy Director of the Polish Cultural Institute New York, said, “I hope that they discovered the courage within themselves to take on challenges in which the process of learning a new skill is the main focus, rather than the final result.” By the end of the week each student had a circular piece of plywood with colorful and infinitely different designs. “The aftermath of the process was like a reward of the patience that it took to apply and spread the plaster on the plywood,” noted Oscar Ixcamparij.
In addition to learning a new skill, the students learned how to gain knowledge about culture through art and technique. “By learning about culture through art we understand certain topics better and instead of listening to given facts we can draw our own conclusions based on what we have experienced,” commented Ms. Steczkowska. By getting our hands dirty and experiencing the things we learn, we can better understand other cultures. Copernicus did the same thing when he defied previous beliefs with his scientific knowledge and exploration. That is why it is important for us to learn, educate, and break the status quo.
The following is a video about the project from Polish Institute New York
Here are a couple of narratives from students who participated in the workshop:
The first day was pretty uneventful. Due to the fact that the whole process of applying Plaster takes more than 5 days. However we did have an interesting conversation about why humans started making art. I argued that it was mainly because of instinct. If you give a baby a crayon and a blank piece of paper they will probably start drawing. Of course that still leaves out the fact that early humans had no art supplies. But innovation has always been a thing humans did so someone eventually figured out how to make paint and things like that.
The next 3 days were a little more interesting since we got to apply the first second and third layers of Plaster to our wooden surfaces. As a beginner Applying one layer was already hard enough due to the fact the Plaster dries pretty quickly. So you can imagine adding the other two layers was quite hard for me. The layering aspect of Plaster is its selling point. The application of multiple layers of Plaster gives a shiny rock-like appearance to surfaces. However this look can’t be achieved in 5 days. The time constraints definitely affected my enjoyment of the workshop. However it was still fun creating designs and materials.
-Amari Clyde, Junior
A few weeks ago, some other students and I signed a permission slip for a project called “Dare To Be Copernicus”. When I was first called up to the 5th floor science lab (which is where the project took place), I wasn’t sure what to expect of it. On the first day the other students and I learned what the week was going to be like. We were going to be designing a piece of wood that was carved in the shape of a medal.
At first we discussed what art meant to us. Over the days we would have many sorts of discussions about various things. I’ll say that my peers are very intelligent and gave me an interesting perspective on what art means to them. Some answers were similar and some were different. These discussions helped me to see that no matter what the topic, people will have very different perspectives based on their individual experiences. We also learned about Copernicus (obviously). Copernicus was a Polish astronomer, born in 1473, who created a model of the universe which depicted the Sun at its center as opposed to the Earth, which was a popular theory of his day. The publication of his book, De Revolutionibus Orbium Coelestium (On the Revolutions of the Celestial Spheres) had a major hand in the scientific revolution.
But I’ll get back to the project. We were tasked with covering the wooden medallion with plaster. After that, when it dried, we used more plaster, with coloring dye, to create designs on the medallion. Some people created sunsets or shorelines and others did abstract design. All things considered, the project was nice. The teachers, observers, and other students were all very insightful and respectful, and the conversations that we would have were nice and offered interesting perspectives. The project itself which was putting a design on a piece of wood was fun, and it was overall a nice break from the norm.
-Adjei Sarbeng, Sophomore