Sister City artist bridges cultures through children's tile project
2005/02/15 By Gerald Peterson, 17, and Pryce Hadley, 15
Patrick Dragon of Marquette shuffles into a classroom struggling to keep his balance in slippers four sizes too small, but his feet are the least of his worries. He pauses and looks at the thirty-three Japanese children awaiting his lesson.
He doesn't speak Japanese and they don't speak English.
“For the first ten minutes I needed to have someone interpret for me so I could bridge the gap with the communication problem,” Dragon said. “After the initial lesson was presented, language was not really an issue because then we were dealing with a language that we had in common, which was the elements of art, using line and texture and composition. So we were beyond the verbal communication at that point.”
Dragon was the guest artist of the 2005 Marquette Sister City delegation to Higashiomi , Japan . As part of this role, he taught art to fifth graders at Misono Elementary School in Higashiomi.
“I showed them some of the techniques that I've developed drawing and painting with clay on tile,” said Dragon who specializes in ceramic pottery.
After Dragon handed out supplies and had an interpreter explain how to do the project, the students quickly became absorbed in creating their images. They used black clay paint on white tile to draw pictures of their favorite television show characters, foods, animals, and other images from their lives. From the time the lesson began, the students enjoyed it and completely focused on their task.
“The most important thing that I took from the experience is the love that children have to learn,” Dragon said. “They have a natural need to learn and experience different things. I could see that throughout the expressions on the faces of the Japanese children. Hopefully I will see the same sort of expressions with the American children when I do the project here.”
Dragon brought back fifty tiles to be displayed in Marquette . He plans to complete the exchange by having a fifth grade class in Marquette do a similar project to send back to Japan .
“In order to develop a long-lasting relationship we need to develop a relationship with the children,” Dragon said. “So I feel as though with this exchange of our art projects, we can keep our relationship ongoing.”
The project was a logical choice for Dragon because of his many years of experience as an art teacher. Dragon, a Skandia native, graduated from Gwinn High School and Northern Michigan University with a Bachelor of Science in Photography and Art Education. He taught elementary school art in Orlando , Florida from 1974 to 1986.
“I would do a lot of clay projects with the children, and then I found myself getting there before school and after school and working on my own projects,” he explained. “ One of the reasons why I've been so intrigued with ceramics for so many years is that the possibilities are never-ending as far as technique and form.”
Dragon moved back to the U.P. in 1999 and opened Dragon Clay Studio in Marquette where he continues to work. Last year, a chance encounter with Japanese artist Taro Kojima led to Dragon becoming the first guest artist from Marquette to Higashiomi.
Kojima, a well-known ceramic artist from Higashiomi, initiated the artist exchange program. In 2002, Kojima visited Marquette with the Japan delegation from what was then the city of Yokaichi . During his stay in Marquette , he held an exhibition and sale of his art. He donated over $6,000 in proceeds to fund an artist exchange. A few remaining pieces are for sale at the Marquette Arts and Culture Center at Peter White Public Library.
During Kojima's stay in Marquette , he happened to meet Dragon at the New York Deli. The two artists struck up a conversation and Dragon invited Kojima to his studio, which the Japanese artist greatly enjoyed. It was then that Dragon learned about the artist exchange program, and he was immediately interested in it. He was chosen as the first guest artist from Marquette .
Dragon's airfare and art shipping expenses to Japan were paid from the exchange fund. He held an exhibition of his work in Higashiomi and has pledged to donate the proceeds from the sale of his work to the artist exchange fund. He hopes future artists in the exchange will continue this pattern, donating to the best of their ability.
“By having an exhibition of my work and selling it, I'm able to actually put monies back into this fund for the next person,” Dragon said. “So perhaps with the sale of our artwork on a continuous basis this program will continue to live.”