By DAN ROBLEE
Bonnie Werner, 7, left, brushes masking fluid over her drawing to create a watercolor effect, while Millie Werner, 8, adds some finishing touches with a watercolor pencil. The girls created their artworks during a China Art Exchange event at the Portage Lake District Library Wednesday. (Houghton Daily Mining Gazette photo by Dan Roblee)
HOUGHTON - More than 40 local home-schooled students immersed themselves in all things Chinese Wednesday at the Portage Lake District Library, as part of a Michigan State University Extension 4-H Youth Development program built around an exchange of art between Michigan students and students in China's Shangdong Province.
The students viewed art made by Chinese students, discussed cultural similarities and differences, ate Chinese food and created works of art that may be sent to their peers on the other side of the world.
"It's about building cultural bridges," said library Community Programs Director Chris Alquist. "Even if they're not actually meeting students from China, they form a bond through art."
"It's really been fun," added student Kate Jackson, 15. "It's been a great experience learning about China."
Karen Connors, 4-H program coordinator for Baraga, Houghton and Keweenaw counties, led the event. She said the program demonstrated the wide variety of 4-H's offerings, which are often misconceived as being solely agricultural.
"Many people think 4-H is only for kids that live on the farm," Connors said. "It's actually a big program with unlimited possibilities. ... It can be any skill or interest at all."
During the program, students examined four paintings made by Chinese students and discussed cultural differences in language, writing, food, eating utensils, language and dance. They then made dancing sticks, which the Chinese use in parades, and practiced using chopsticks on easy to handle foods.
Then they turned to the real food, an organic Chinese meal catered by the Keweenaw Co-op, which included rice, noodles, vegetables and tofu.
"The food was good - different from what I'm used to" noted Jackson.
Students formed groups to write reports on what they'd learned, then finally turned to their main art projects, which were created with watercolor pencils.
Students made the drawings with the pencils, then brushed over them with masking fluid for a watercolor paint effect.