Susan Gilbert knows sheep. And storytelling. When she puts the two together, magic happens.
A piece of that magic now hangs near the back of the main space of WordPlay, Northside’s own non-profit focused on sharing and developing a love of literacy and creative writing and expression for kids of all ages. At first glance, it looks like a cross between a quilt and a painting. The story behind it is as rich and multi-dimensional as the artwork itself.
The three-dimensional creation, crafted by WordPlay students under Gilbert’s instruction, tells a story the group developed over weeks of conversation and handwork.
“It’s the kind of thing I love doing,” said Gilbert, who runs Northside’s Craft Village, which, like WordPlay, is also located on Hamilton Avenue. A longtime Waldorf School teacher, Gilbert has years of experience weaving stories into art.
Gilbert’s work with young storytellers is part of a weekly “Happy Hour” session at WordPlay, which is open to students afterschool Monday through Thursday and on Saturdays. During the week, students can bring homework to the site for support, but at 5 p.m., the mood shifts and “Happy Hour” begins.
“Happy Hours allow us to explore new connections between literacy and creativity,” said Kirsten Zook, WordPlay’s Program Manager. “Susan’s work exposes our students not only to great storytelling, but also to concepts like patience, determination and dedication.”
Gilbert started each session with a story, and every week the group created a new chapter together. As they talked about the geese, for example, the characters unfolded in pieces of dyed wool as small hands pulled and shaped and fluffed the creatures to life.
“There’s something magical about working with sheep’s wool,” said Gilbert, who has four sheep of her own and used dyed wool from the same mill she once used for her own sheep for the WordPlay project. “The students were very interested and eager.”
The students created the main images on the finished piece, while Gilbert worked to fill in some of the background spaces.
“It was amazing to watch the children become so engrossed in the creative process,” Zook said. “We are all so proud of the finished product.”
In Gilbert’s next project with WordPlay, youth will work on creating their own marionettes, who will doubtless have exciting and important stories to tell.
JOIN THE FUN
Want your child to be part of a WordPlay Happy Hour? Want to sign on as a Happy Hour volunteer? WordPlay is currently accepting applications for students and volunteers for our weekday afterschool programs as well as our Saturday sessions. For more information and an online application, visit http://www.wordplaycincy.org or call Kirsten at 513-541-0930
By Elissa Yancey. Co-Founder and Chair of the Board at WordPlay Cincy, Elissa is the Director of Media and Communications for the Office of the Provost at the University of Cincinnati. She is also an inaugural Images and Voices of Hope Fellow working on a long-form restorative narrative.