Two local makers came on board the Maker in Residence program at the Scott Family Amazeum with two unique takes on hands-on learning that they shared with kids, teachers and staff.
Bentonville-based multimedia artist and educator Briseida "Brioch" Ochoa and Dustin Griffith, a woodworker and industrial designer based in Eureka Springs, both used everyday objects and natural materials rather than technology-based learning for their projects focused on STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Art, and Math) at the Bentonville children's museum.
During her time as a maker in residence, Ochoa, usually called "Brioch," has led hands-on learning experiences centered on gelatin plate monotype printmaking. This method of artmaking is similar to wood block printing where images are created within negative space by rolling or pressing ink over a plate. Ochoa creates a "plate" from gelatin instead of wood or metal and has even developed her own formula for the gelatin that she uses.
"I really like more organic forms, organic objects," she says while sorting through a box full of papers colored in earthy tones and stark silhouettes created through her many workshops. The prints show patterns from bubble wrap, impressions of local plants and flora and various objects which the participants are able to work with freely.
"It's really fun," she says of her printmaking process, which combines elements of artmaking and science to create something tangible and beautiful.
She uses this and other methods in developing her artwork, which can be seen locally at MIXD Gallery in Rogers and Art Ventures in Fayetteville. She was part of the team that brought together Rumwolf's "The Big Free Picture" exhibit at the Momentary in July, and she most recently worked on new murals with artists Lourdes Valverde and Lupita Albarran in Springdale and Rogers.
The working artist previously held a residency at CACHE Studios in Bentonville, which she says was a different experience. There her focus was more on the art itself.
"We had studios [where] you concentrate on your project, and you have other creators or people come in and see your studio and check out the process."
At the Amazeum, she says that she has been experimenting and expanding on her methods and exploring the children's museum's expansive workshop. There she has experimented with 3-D printing, laser CAD and CNC (Computer Numeric Controlled) lasers, to see where those may lead in her artmaking and sharing what she has learned with staff and other educators.
Like Ochoa, Dustin Griffith used the Amazeum's workshop capabilities to engage curiosity in young minds. He's the former lead exhibit developer for the Amazeum, where he used his skills in product design and development to create some of the interactive exhibits still in use at the children's museum. Now the owner and operator of Ozark CNC & Design and Fabrication studio in Eureka Springs, he has also taught wood shop at the Clear Spring School there.
For the annual Tinkerfest this summer, Griffith led kids in constructing a simple toy that taps into hands-on concepts based in geometry and scientific exploration -- a top.
"The kids did all the things," he explained. "They drilled the holes and sanded the pieces. I gave them round, wooden discs and sticks to use for the center, but they put the point on the sticks, and they put the holes in the tops, and then we had it set up where they could decorate them and sand them smooth." After testing their tops to make sure they spun and doing adjustments, the children were free to take home their toys.
He presented the same workshop to educators at the Amazeum's Educator Nights, during which teachers and support staff are invited to come to the Amazeum after hours. In addition to tops, he also led the educators and support staff in the creation of wooden "flip cars" that use some of the same materials from the tops.
"I had a bunch of people that had never touched a drill before. You know, that sort of stuff," he relates.
During his previous tenure at the Amazeum, he once had a mechanical engineering student who had never used a screwdriver before despite being on the cusp of graduating from college.
He hopes to create a toolkit based on his workshops that educators can take into their classrooms to give their students a chance to work with their hands.
As an educator, he says he's seen the benefits of creating something with your own hands.
"I noticed that some of the students that had a harder time sitting still and paying attention in class were some of the best ones I had in wood shop because they were really engaged. It was almost like recess in a similar kind of way; it's just a big change from what they're used to spending their day doing. It was the time that they could focus and just do something different."
In addition to learning how to use tools and develop coordination, it rounds out the student's learning experience.
"I think it's a really good break to step away from standard everyday classroom stuff -- books and worksheets and computers -- and actually pick up this material and make it into something that you can physically hold in your hands," he says. "It's a really satisfying thing to be able to physically hold the thing that you've made."
Letting kids work with real tools is a great skill to pass on, but he jokes that he may have caused some confusion by using an old school pencil sharpener for woodworking.
"There's going to be a whole group of kids that think hand crank pencil sharpeners are for making tops," he laughed.