In 2014 while conducting a workshop in Guatemala for a class of American students, I was joined by a local man, Juan Carlos Calderon, who is himself one of that country’s premier watercolor artists. Over the ensuing days between demonstrations and assisting students, we discussed several subjects with the education of Guatemalan children being one of them.
Juan relayed the fact that getting an education was a difficult task for youngsters in that country. Lack of money, limited opportunities and the need to join the labor force at an early age caused many a young people to cut short their studies, even of the basic education curriculum. Opportunity to study or take part in any artistic endeavor was even more limited.
Calderon, who had an opportunity to experiment with art in school, considered it the subject that ignited his intellectual curiosity and spurred him on the further his education in art as well as other subjects. He stated a desire to introduce art to the children of Guatemala, especially those residing the rural areas of the country where access to all levels of formal education was limited. Before I left the country Juan’s desire became an idea and then a quest in which I soon found myself to be an integral part
Since the children residing in the rural highlands of Guatemala would not be able to travel to the city to view the demonstrations and try their hands’ at sketching and painting, it became obvious that we would have to take the ‘show on the road’. Juan, with help from his fellow Guatemalan artists, organized the venues and the publicity, starting with locations in the capital city and then proceeding to the highland villages via the Pan American Highway.
Local artists, school teachers and art patrons spread the word about the ‘traveling artists’ who were coming to town to demonstrate the art of sketching and watercolor painting. The sessions were attended by large groups of children and young adults at each of the ten sites on our schedule. Following our demonstrations, the children ran to find a shady spot under a tree or awning to attempt to replicate the skills Juan and I had demonstrated.
During our planning efforts, we knew that art materials would be scarce for the children wanting to try their hand at sketching and painting. We would have to provide some of them. At one point a sponsor of mine, Joe Miller of “Cheap Joe’s Art Supplies” in North Carolina, offered to provide the material for the students attending the sessions. Unfortunately, Juan was unable to gain the cooperation of Guatemala’s Customs Office to bring the material into the country without paying significant fees. This left the children to fend for themselves in terms of finding art material.
Believe me, the lack of material didn't slow the kids down. they found paper, pencils, markers, crayons and even used sticks in their attempt to create their very own first masterpiece. I believe that type of initiative was indicative of the exact 'spark' Juan Carlos was hoping to create with this project right from the start.
Returning to Guatemala City after about two weeks of demonstrations, sightseeing and meeting Guatemala’s indigenous people of Mayan decent, the two “Pied Pipers” took part in the first ‘Watercolor Festival, 2015”. The festival included an exhibition of some of the work we had completed during the demonstrations as well many of the images created by the participants. In his closing speech ending the event, Juan Carlos stated that ‘dreams do come true’. No one who attended any part of the project took issue with his statement. While I haven’t heard from Juan in some time, I thinking the next ‘Watercolor Festival’ is on the ‘sketching’ board.
I have been to Guatemala twice. The country is literally loaded with scenes waiting to be sketched and turned into award winning watercolor art. The baroque architecture of the old Spanish cathedrals, the terrain, the entrepreneurial chaos of the local markets and the colorful people provide an endless source of inspiration. Hopefully, we inspired some youngsters to develop their artistic skills.
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