The Family Tree
Visual artist FLO OY WONG loves poetry. At the age of 75, Flo set her sights on becoming a poet, and she has worked diligently to master the art of writing poetry. To quote the National Center for Creative Aging, “There is no doubt Mrs. Wong will carry out her plan to keep working as long as she is able to do so.” A vibrant elder, Flo dives into new challenges with whole-hearted gusto.
Last November 2013, the students of Rooftop School received a very special present from Flo — their own art show. Rooftop Art’s “A Slice of Life” at the Luggage Store Annex was a companion show to Flo’s 75th birthday show, “The Whole Pie.” As a nod to Flo’s interest in poetry, visitors were invited to stroll through the Tenderloin National Forest to read poems written by Ms. Woo’s 4th graders.
This year, as Flo celebrated her 76th birthday with family in New York, Flo revealed that she was working on a new project with her granddaughter Sasha. As a visiting artist in Sasha’s classroom, Flo used visual art to help children to see the poetry in trees. At home, Flo and Sasha worked together to make a very special tree box.
We thank Flo, Sasha and Ms. Robin Farrell’s 3rd grade class at Hillside Elementary School in Hastings-on-Hudson, New York for sharing their process, their art, and their mutual love of trees.
FLO: My tree project with Sasha started when I was home in Sunnyvale. I took pictures of these trees when I was going on daily walks. I sent them to Sasha after she asked to see the tree trunks I was talking about. My husband Ed knew about my tree-sharing and he began to point out trees to me. There was one, in particular, which inspired me to write my poem, Tree Trunk.
Fast forward to mid-October when I taught a tree-drawing lesson in her 3rd grade class. The day before the other lesson her teacher selected, Sasha gave me input. She told me she didn’t want me to repeat what I had taught in her 2nd grade class.
Flo suggested that the class learn how to draw trees, a spontaneous decision that met with Sasha’s approval. Flo discussed trees, focusing mainly on color of trunks. After demonstrating how to draw a tree Flo told the 3rd graders they could draw either realistic or fantasy trees. The criteria? They had to fill their paper top to bottom, side to side. She introduced them to non-dominant hand drawing and requested one tree be drawn with their non-dominant hand. Then, the students needed to create interest in the negative spaces. They also wrote tree stories. One boy, a ballet dancer at the Met, drew a dancing tree. A girl created one with swirling energy in the trees and the surrounding environment. The hour lesson turned the students into vibrant and energetic tree detectives.
When the class was through, Sasha conducted an exit interview with her grandmother about the lesson. Sasha’s critique: She would have cut back the drawing time so more artists could share their work with her grandmother.
FLO: What I liked so much about the lesson was this – I integrated my love of poetry and art for this eye-opening, heartwarming classroom experience. In the evening at home Sasha and I memorized Joyce Kilmer’s poem. We recited it around the dinner table.
Sasha memorizes Joyce Kilmer’s poem Trees, just as her grandmother had done when she was a young student at Lincoln School in Oakland Chinatown. Flo learned and recited Trees for a tree planting ceremony. She recalled, “We buried a time box with the tree. I wonder if our box has been uncovered. I have remembered Trees for over 60 years.” Sasha and Flo also listened to Louis Armstrong and Paul Robeson sing their musical settings of Kilmer’s poem.
Trees drawn by Ms. Robin Farrell’s 3rd grade class at Hillside Elementary School (Art by Andreas, Andrei, Aynsley, Bianca, Bruno, Clara, Dominick, Erin, Graham, Hamilton, Joshua, Leo, Luke, Max, Mia, Michaela, Nathaniel, Paul, Salett, Sasha, Yogev & Zev)
Flo and Sasha’s TREE BOX
When Sasha and Flo find a 1930s box at the local antique store, they decided to make a box tree art project. Sasha includes Joyce Kilmer’s poem (partial) and her Paw Paw’s poem. Flo adds some color atop of the colored pencils Sasha used to render the tree.
Sasha includes two blue porcelain miniature birds that she has purchased from the antique store.
Sasha makes a tree out of a paper bag fragment to add to the tree box.
As a surprise, Flo adds a bird to the lower right front of the box, while Sasha is away at school.
When the box is finished, grandmother and granddaughter take some time to reflect on the process of making The Tree Box together. Flo and Sasha use Flo’s iPhone to record their shared memory of three and a half weeks of bonding and intergenerational learning.