photo by Karen Light

Throughout the months of March and April, a fascinating Art Start project will be on display at the Oak Park Area Arts Council’s gallery at Village Hall, 123 Madison Street in Oak Park. Stop by and have a look!

Megan Leahy’s 2nd graders at Longfellow recently discovered they could make some pretty cool
art with everyday materials. As part of OPEF’s Art Start, students worked with Chicago artist
Karen Light to fashion their own masks using newspaper, masking tape, and . . . Vaseline.

The students created the masks in conjunction with their social studies unit on traditions and
cultures. As 2nd grader Eleanor W. explained, “We have been learning about masks around the
world so now we are making our own,” adding that “Ms. Leahy wants us to have fun in social

Ms. Light began by showing the 2nd graders a slide presentation of various types of masks and
decorations. The class studied masks from different cultures such as Chinese and Mexican in
which “bright colors showed different things like happiness or evil,” said Lindsey R.

To make the masks, the students began with a ball of newspaper, about the size of a 2nd grader’s
head, then added divots for the eyes and a bump for the nose. Next, they covered that in masking
tape. They used water and art paste to layer on more strips of newspaper. Before wrapping the
masks in brown shipping paper–the layer that would be the actual mask–they rubbed it all over
with Vaseline, “so once it dries the mask will lift off,” Ms. Leahy explained.

Once the masks dried, they were removed from their moulds. Before the students set about
decorating the masks, however, they sketched out their plans. Then the students spent two
class sessions decorating and embellishing their masks. The final touch, Avery A. explained,
was “adding pipe cleaners that we could bend, so they would stick on our heads.” According to
Ms. Leahy, “Working with Art Start and Karen has given the students an opportunity to expand
their imaginations and work cooperatively together.”

To wrap up her time with the 2nd graders Ms. Light brought in a dance teaching artist, Margot
Toppen, to help the students develop their story into a dance. The inspiration for their dance
was the Native American dance called the Fancy dance or the Feather dance which is often
performed at pow wows. Wearing their masks, students embodied the characters that they
developed to tell a story through their own dance moves.

Ms. Light used to live and work in Oak Park and had a studio in the Oak Park Art District. Now
she is in Chicago. The focus of her art is on mixed-media, textural, and sculpturing art. For
instance, she says that when painting she likes to “make it pop out somehow.” She is also
interested in “incorporating writing into the arts.”

When asked at the end of the project about their experience, several students said working with
the Vaseline was their favorite step. They also enjoyed painting and decorating the masks. For
Jackson T., wearing a garbage bag so he didn’t get his clothes messy was one of the project’s
highlights–just another way Ms. Light introduced everyday materials into their creative process.
Avery A. added that he liked the project, but “it was hard because of all of the steps.” Even with
sometimes numerous and messy steps though, Ms. Leahy said her students “really enjoyed [Ms.
Light] and were completely engaged throughout the entire experience.”

Click here to see photos of the project by Karen Light.