CAN you imagine the excitement of having your school project artwork exhibited alongside international artists at York Art Gallery?

This opportunity is befalling children from Burton Green Primary School who are curating a spring exhibition in the Centre of Ceramic Art at the invitation of London collector Anthony Shaw.

Shaw’s collection of art has been assembled over 40 years and is on long-term loan to York Art Gallery, where guest curators have chosen pieces for display in a series of shows.

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One of the workshop sessions at York Art Gallery

Now, he has invited 28 Year Five and Year Six children aged nine to 12 to fill that curatorial role to create their own exhibition from April 12 using his collection for inspiration in a series of workshops with University of York artist in residence Susan Halls, a ceramicist whose 2006 dog sculpture, Big Black George, is part of the York Art Gallery collection.

This creative process has involved the children visiting the gallery store last November to pick out the pieces they want to go on display alongside their own imaginative artwork prompted by those selections. In turn they have worked with Shaw and the gallery team to re-design the Anthony Shaw space, returning it to a more domestic setting with a fireplace and chairs, as Shaw had requested.

"We all start as artists, instinctively able to communicate our feelings, until adults order how we should behave and think," said Anthony. "It takes many artists a lifetime to get back to the innocence of childhood."

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Burton Green Primary School pupil William with art collector Anthony Shaw and the piece that inspired the schoolboy

What's more, he enjoys how people see objects in his collection differently from how he does, bringing new meanings to the pieces.

Burton Green Primary School was chosen because of a York Art Gallery link with the school: the gallery's learning manager Kirstie Blything formerly taught Year Five pupils there. Subsequently, the children took part in three Thursday workshops, first focusing on ceramics, then collage and, lastly, found materials.

Year Six teacher Rachel Cerowski said: "They do all understand what an exciting opportunity this: something that has not been offered to other children and it's a big thing for our school too. None of them had been to the gallery before, and this project has given them a chance to shine when maybe they hadn't realised before that maybe they have an artistic ability.

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Alysia creating a sculpture at York Art Gallery

"Some chose pieces where they said 'I like the stuff that looks weird', and lots of them wanted to pick the animal sculptures from Anthony's collection, in particular the fox as our class is called 'Foxes' (and in fact all are classes are named after woodland animals)."

All the children will be attending a special afternoon preview on April 11 with parents and senior leadership from the school. Among those pupils will be Year Five's William, aged nine, and Jay Jay, aged ten, and Year Six's Alysia, aged 11, and head girl Dehella, aged ten.

"I picked a robot, which I'd liked at the store, and it would be fun to have it in my bedroom," said William.

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Ceramicist Susan Halls leading one of the workshops 

"Mine was an angel," said JayJay. "I liked it because it had different wings, and I've made an angel with cardboard, paper, Bubblewrap and Sellotape. Before I made a clay one that was like a volcano."

Alysia said: "The one I picked was like a honeycomb, and it looked like the sort of thing you'd want to see in a gallery."

Dehella picked an Ian Godfrey sculpture that was "like the sea". "It was like water, but with a glaze, and it had rabbits around the edge."

Looking forward to the exhibition opening, William said: "It feels really nice knowing that other people will see them, making us happy and making them happy. I feel the pressure's off now we've finished it."

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Foxes: a work inspired by the name of the children's class at Burton Green

Alysia said that above all she felt "proud": "To know that you have created something to be shown in a gallery makes you feel special."

Dehella agreed. "I think it's extraordinary to be able to say 'I've done a piece for an art gallery', and it's been really fun doing it. Other people might not get that chance and you may only have this opportunity once in a lifetime, so you must take it."

Ceramicist Susan Halls has so enjoyed working with the children. "It's been intense," she said in a brief break from the third workshop. "They're full on, and that's what you want. Turbo energy!

"When I was approached to do this project, I leapt at it because children are so enthusiastic. Like working with clay, they didn't seem fazed by it or repelled it because it looked like mud!

"And knowing they are making pieces for an exhibition makes it more important to them, more serious. To have it on show really validates it for them."