One of the highlights of Ross School’s 8th grade curriculum is the Medieval Guild Projects, a few days when students step away from their regular school routine and immerse themselves in the role of guild apprentice to a master craftsperson. Just as some young people in medieval times would apprentice themselves to learn the tools and techniques of various trades, Ross students choose an area to specialize in, and end up producing beautiful results in a variety of artistic media.
This year, students focused on mosaics, sculptured gargoyles, gilded paintings, and stained glass. All of these arts were integral elements of medieval cathedrals, which in turn were the physical and cultural manifestations of the growth in universal religions and their importance to the cultures being studied.
Mentors who served as master craftspersons last month included Sag Harbor artist David Slater, who worked with students on mosaics; longtime Ross associate Mary Jaffe, who guided the creation of clay gargoyles both adorable and grotesque; painter Roisin Bateman, who instructed students in the art of applying gold leaf to their artwork; and Sue Lichtenstein Lowell, who taught students how to work with stained glass.
At the beginning of the several-day period set aside for the projects, students viewed examples of their chosen artistic expression from the time period they have been studying, such as gargoyles from Notre Dame or illuminated manuscripts. The painting guild even examined the definitive 15th-century “how-to” book on using gold leaf and egg tempera to enhance works of art, authored by Cennino Cennini. The guilds then begin work on their own creations. It is a labor-intensive process, but the work comes with intangible rewards. Jen Cross, dean of Visual Arts, explained that the project gives students a sense of the communal learning and structure that was so essential to the medieval way of life. In addition, she said, students “have to demonstrate patience to achieve their goals.” There is a “reverence for the activity” that is a departure from the day-to-day schedule of modern life.
Eighth grader Lilly enthusiastically agrees. “I really loved the process!” she said. “It was such a fun experience and pretty easy to learn. I also think it was cool to learn what people had to do to make stained glass back in the Middle Ages.”
For more pictures of student projects, visit the Medieval Guild Projects Flickr gallery.