Last year I back on our summer-camp experiences and made copious notes to self about items such as, "#3: 'cooking camp' doesn’t involve actual cooking, unless jello counts", and "#7:there is a big difference between a 6-year old boy and a 4-year-old girl, especially in games involving the physics of force."
This year I want to highlight one of our better experiences, a camp my daughter and her family members look forward to again this summer: Nancy Gordon’s Studio Summer Art Camp, of Cardiff. I say my daughter looks forward to it, because she adores the time she spends at Nancy Gordon’s idyllic garden studios, working with clay, paints, jewelry and mixed media. I say her family, because we’re the ones who benefit from the lovely work she brings home.
I'll admit that much of the art I have up from my 5-year-old is displayed merely out of pride and nepotism. Although sometimes her intuitive aesthetics do make up for lack of technique. But the work from Nancy Gordon’s is almost always phenomenal. The clay and homemade paper lamp my little one made, at 4-and-a-half, is one of my favorite lights I’ve ever owned.
Too, my daughter treasures her time with the camp's “big girls,” the junior-highschoolers Ms. Gordon brings on to help the little ones along. And she marvels at seeing the workings of a kiln, bead-room, and throwing wheel, among other magic afoot in the fairy-garden-like setting Ms. Gordon has created.
I got the opportunity to visit these gardens just recently and ask Ms. Gordon some questions about how the camp got started. She told me about her lack of formal art training and how she first took a clay class while pregnant with her son 41 years ago. “I actually went to class on Tuesday, had him on Wednesday, and went to class on Thursday, with him of course,” she recalled. Soon then began selling pottery at clay sales, and supported herself and her son this way for 15 years.
At the same time, she said, “My personal art evolved through Book Arts...my clay 'books' let me use clay, words, cloth, paper, junk etc. in one piece. These have been shown at The Athenaeum in La Jolla, The Oceanside Museum of Art, The Center for the Book (in New York and SF) and the Woman Made Gallery in Chicago to name a few.” In the late 70s and early 80s she received four grants from The California Arts Council as an Artist in the Community (Pala Indian Reservation), and Schools (Chollas Elementary and Chula Vista Schools).
Ms. Gordon started teaching art by contributing at her son’s schools and has now taught at the Rhoades School for 25 years. “My camp is special in my opinion,” she told me, “because I allow creativity, both artistically and emotionally, to take its own course. I like to give people the skills they need to make anything. Then I have as much of a hands off approach as possible...The kids create something amazing with their hands and their beings.”
After we spoke, I realized she’d hit the nail on the head. For me, as a parent, what I value most about the experience my child gets at Studio Summer Art Camp is that it is her experience, alone. No one seems to be telling her what to do in a way that she notices she’s being taught anything at all. Rather, she’s being given tools and ideas to expand and embody her own well of creativity, so endless inside of her right now, and so crucial to growth in so many areas of her life.
But if you ask my daughter she’ll just tell you, “It’s fun to get my hands so messy at Ms. Nancy’s place,” and as far as I’m concerned, that’s all she needs to know.
If you’re interested in joining in the fun, please contact Nancy Gordon at 760.479.0076 or visit their website. They offer weeklong sessions from mid-June through August, and provide a full or half day program for ages 4-14.