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Drawn to York Minster’s light
9:32am Wednesday 10th October 2012 in Features
Primary school children from across York are enjoying art lessons in York Minster, as part of the Minster Revealed project. STEPHEN LEWIS joined a class of children from Tang Hall Primary
IT’S a beautiful, crisp October morning. Inside the Minster all is cool and dark. But even here the sunlight intrudes, pouring through the Rose Window to splash glorious colour on to the stone-flagged floor of the South Transept and the group of primary school children lying there.
They are all busily drawing away on a long roll of paper spread across the stone floor. Every now and then, however, they pause to look up at the magnificent window above them, its outline traced in golden fire.
“It’s really colourful!” said an awestruck Renee Hall. “And it’s got lots of patterns in it!”
Under the expert guidance of artist Griselda Goldbrough, the children are putting their own impressions of those patterns down in coloured pencil on the long paper roll before them. Griselda has hunkered right down among them on the floor, peering up at the window like them.
“You’ve got a lot of space here,” she said to one little girl, who seemed to be struggling. The girl complained that she can’t draw roses. “You’ve forgotten what they look like!” Griselda said. “You have a look and see what you can see! It’s like gold, isn’t it?”
The girl looked up at the window and brightened. “Oh, yes!” she said and started drawing.
Just behind her, a little boy – seven-year-old Matthew Newton – was looking up at the window through an odd cardboard contraption he made in school last week. There is a little rectangle of card framing a square opening and below it a sheet of yellowed plastic.
It’s a viewfinder, he explained patiently. “It’s for seeing things properly!”
And it helped, too. Looking through the frame doesn’t magnify anything but it does cut out everything except what you are looking at, so you can focus on it properly. Before long, Matthew, too, was happily drawing away.
Welcome to Minster on the Move – a schools project launched as part of York Minster Revealed, in which local primary schools are invited into the magnificent cathedral to learn about its history and be inspired by its stunning art and architecture.
It was a wonderful opportunity for the children to get out of the classroom and learn about this wonderful building first-hand, said class teacher Fiona McCallion, whose group of seven to nine year-olds this was. “It is a hundred times better than sitting in a classroom talking about it!”
The previous week, Fiona said, Griselda and Helen Moore, the Minster’s community engagement officer, visited her class to talk about the cathedral and show the children some artefacts connected to its history. From then, yesterday’s visit was the talk of the school. “They’ve been talking to their parents about it, talking to their friends about it. The other children in other classes have all been asking ‘what’s this Minster thing?’”
Their visit yesterday began in the Chapter House. And right away, Helen got them in the mood. She asked the children to look up at the ceiling, then hushed them all. “The best way to enjoy the Chapter House is to lie on the floor,” she said. “So… let’s all lie down to look at the ceiling!”
The children didn’t need asking twice.
“Is it a good view?” Helen asked. “Yeah!” came the delighted response.
The children scrambled back to their feet, and Helen lead them through to the quire, where they sat on wooden pews.
“Do you remember last week when I told you about the fire of 1829, caused by Jonathan Martin?” asked Helen. The children nodded. “That was started right here!” Helen said. “He brought lots of wood here to make two big bonfires and he then set them alight.”
The children’s eyes grew big as they imagined the long-ago events.
Then it was out into the south transept, to draw the Rose Window. Griselda asked the children to use imaginary pencils to trace the outline of the window in the air. Then she rolled out the long sheets of paper so the children could draw what they had seen.
After 40 minutes of drawing and looking through viewfinders and drawing again, it was time for lunch.
“But remember all the exciting things you’ve seen!” Griselda said, as they broke up, chattering animatedly. “After you’ve had your sandwiches, I’m expecting you to do even better!”
There would be more drawing lessons in the Minster in the afternoon, she said – and then further sessions at the school next week, at which she will help the children to draw a representation of the Rose Window. That drawing will then be combined with the drawings done by the three other primary schools taking part in the project, for an exhibition to be held in the Minster next year.
Now that’s what you call learning.