A.R.T. was an idea hatched (as these two delightful women put it) in the 1990s by Eleanor Schmakel, a retired art teacher and parent of Ray School teacher, Ingrid Stallsmith, and Martha Robb, a parent of four boys who attended the Ray School. Martha had worked in a school in Winnetka, Illinois in which the art teacher trained kids to be docents and had a small gallery in a small hallway. “I always loved that program,” Martha said in a recent interview, and when she and Eleanor met, Voila! “We rehabbed all the art prints that belonged to the Ray School and covered them in plastic for protection and then we created the gallery format. We also made all sorts of road trips with Eleanor driving to procure prints.”
Martha said, “A.R.T. started in spring of 1995, when the building was under construction. The first artist was architect, Frank Lloyd Wright.”
“Clever choice,” the interviewer interrupted, since the building was pretty much torn apart that year and ‘building and architect’ was on everyone’s mind.
Martha continued, “We had eight activity stations illustrating aspects of his philosophy: There was a station on nature (drawing lilies), symmetry, creating a 3D Frank Lloyd Wright bedroom, including floor and furniture, geometry (making a dodecahedron) and so forth. We had one adult volunteer at each station and all the grades came. It was huge!”
“After that,” Martha continued, “we got a little more realistic and presented one artist at a time in gallery format, training the students to be docents. We picked the artist, wrote the curriculum, and trained the docents using objects for them to illustrate the points they were making. We trained them during their lunch and recess periods. We collected artifacts from parents and put a display in the entrance way cabinet (front showcase). We then did Grandma Moses, M.C. Escher, Matisse, Leonardo, and more.”
“The most memorable exhibit,” Martha mused, “was doing cave art from Lascaux. Eleanor had a back problem, and was wearing a back brace and lying on the floor. Together we made a chicken wire mural, covered it with fabric and painted it to resemble cave walls. We cut out holes and stuck the cave art prints in the wall and assembled the whole thing. The docents led the presentation by electric candle. Each child held a candle up to the cave art. It was fabulous!”
Karla Mueller, a Ray School parent, continued after Martha and Eleanor retired. Today the program they began still exists with Robin Henry, art teacher taking charge along with PTO parent Neely McNulty. The most recent exhibit had 23 fifth grade docents presenting the art of Frida Kahlo and Diego Riviera.