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Posted on August 29, 1 comment by Emily Vallowe Story Wall started with petroglyphs and ended with soup. I think that means that I did something right.
The idea for Story Wall grew out of my curiosity about how scholars interpret ancient rock engravings. How could anyone in the year possibly understand the intent of an artist who lived and died thousands of years ago?
Navigating the swampy roads of intent and interpretation is, of course, a tricky business in any artistic medium no matter what the distance between the artist and the audience.
As an English major, I have spent so much time traipsing through bogs of ambiguous text that the ideas of interpretation and intent are probably never far below the surface of my conscious thoughts. However, this question of petroglyphs threw the intent-interpretation relationship into my mind in a new and exciting way, and I wanted to explore it.
Oral storytelling was another source of inspiration for this project. A side effect of being a writer is that you develop crazy notions about stories being the fibers of the universe, which leaves little room for other interests such as finding a job that does not involve creating more universe fibers.
Yet, thinking about petroglyphs put me in a mindset of ancient things, and I found myself pondering one of the oldest forms of storytelling that grew out of cultures all over the world: In a world in which so many of our current modes of storytelling — film, television, and video games — combine multiple media, I wanted to get back to basics and focus on the power of a single human voice.
So those were my grand ideas. My original idea was to have kids draw pictures of whatever they wanted, post their drawings on a wall, and then interpret any number of drawings on the wall to tell a story. The first step in building this structure was to challenge museum visitors to tell a story by using only five drawings from the wall.
Next, I needed to create some prompt cards that visitors could use as inspiration for their drawings, a task which proved to be more challenging than I had expected.
Because the drawings were meant to serve as inspiration for stories, I figured that the prompt cards for these drawings should contain the building blocks of a narrative.
I therefore started brainstorming with the concepts of character, setting, and plot in the back of my mind. For starters, they were difficult to classify. Did the school for pirates belong under the setting or the character category — or did the action taking place there make it a plot element?
Visitors might have different interpretations of what a school for pirates might look like, but they would all be drawing pictures of schools and pirates. For subsequent drafts of prompt cards I focused on narrative archetypes and tried to write about these archetypes in the most open-ended way possible.
However, even minutes before the workshop was about to start, I had no idea what was going to happen.
Oh, and let us record it. Kids of course reacted to the workshop in ways that I never could have predicted. I recorded two amazing stories, but each young storyteller created about ten drawings and then used only his drawings to tell a story.
Not sure what to make of this information, I spent the next two weeks wondering how to revise the workshop. Yet, with less than forty-eight hours before the second iteration of Story Wall was scheduled to start, I had a sudden idea: I snagged the black plastic cauldron that was sitting in the corner of the Innovation Lab and decided to test out this idea.
The cauldron turned out to be just what my project needed. Having the pictures be a surprise also created a richer creative exercise by adding constraints and by challenging visitors to connect seemingly unrelated images.
The cauldron also provided the element of collaboration that I had hoped to include in my project, as most visitors were happy to add their drawings to the pot after they had told their stories.The Kids Go Green!
Environmental Center and Gardens were constructed in on three-fourths of an acre behind the museum. This was made possible through a $, Institute of Museum and Library Services Museums for America Grant.
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