How Franklin High School Gets Its Art On

Who knew graffiti could look so warm and cozy?

Yarn bombing at Franklin HS keyhole view

On November 29th, the Monday after Thanksgiving, I saw this small notice in the Seattle Times:

“This past weekend, a group of parents, teachers, students and volunteers — led by Franklin special-education teacher Judy Camann and fiber artist Suzanne Tidwell — yarn-bombed the sculptures in front of the school… Camann received about $4,000 worth of donated yarn from knitters as far away as Philadephia and Oklahoma…”

I was curious about this collaborative school project that seemed to involve the entire country. I contacted Judy Camann at Franklin High School to find out more.

I learned that the project evolved from a conversation Judy and Franklin PTSA President Elizabeth Lowry had last summer. Judy is an avid knitter. Yarn-bombing is the latest trend in DIY territory marking. Franklin’s 100th anniversary is this year. Wouldn’t it be a great way to surprise principal Jennifer Wiley for the school’s birthday? Let’s yarn bomb the Keys! — the campus Key grove sculpture by Clark Wiegman.

Yarn bombing at Franklin cluster

First Judy contacted artist Suzanne Tidwell, whose reaction was “I love the keys. I’d love to help.” Tidwell is most well-known locally for Artificial Light, her temporary installation in Occidental Park this past summer.

Judy then posted her idea on Ravelry, a knitters web site, and people from around the country started mailing in yarn “because they appreciate yarn, love the culture of yarn-bombing, and thought the school spirit would be positively affected with the bombing.” Seattle Yarn in West Seattle also donated over 300 skeins.

Judy uses various art disciplines with her students to help them learn new skills. Her Vocational Ed class learned to knit and worked on the project one period each week (the boys proved to be better knitters than the girls). By teaching knitting she “was able to reinforce following directions, asking questions, and problem solving without the ‘tension’ of pass/fail as is present in the more ‘traditional academic’ classes.”

Judy then enlisted the help of others in her knitting and education community, including Kimball Elementary School kindergarten teacher and parent, Kristina Thorp, who got a group of volunteer knitters together at Kimball.

Could they have the project ready to install by Thanksgiving weekend?

The order was to knit; knit hard, knit fast.

Early in the morning on the Sunday after Thanksgiving about twenty people assembled for the stealth installation. Students and families came. Teachers brought friends. Even Franklin kitchen staff showed up to help. In about two hours, Franklin High School had been successfully yarn-bombed.

Yarn bombing at Franklin High with tie

Last week I went to Franklin to meet with Judy, Elizabeth, Kristina and John (Jed) Dunkerley, Franklin’s painting and drawing instructor. Unfortunately, Judy had to cancel at the last minute, but I had a fascinating talk with the others about the yarn-bombing project, as well as the arts in general at Franklin. I had no idea how strong the arts programs currently are at Franklin.

For example, if you visit Franklin, you will see walls adorned with murals — in archways, surrounding classroom doors, in the bathrooms — the full-spectrum output of Jed Dunkerley’s muraling program.

Van Gogh inspired doorway mural at Franklin HS

This is Jed’s eighth year teaching at Franklin. Since 2007, Jed has led an average of 40 students a year in the art of painting murals. His background is in illustration and animation, but he knew enough about painting murals to try his hand at teaching the craft to his students. His classes have contributed over 45 murals to Franklin’s formerly drab and monotonous decor, what Jed described as “windowless tan walls that stretched on forever.”

Jed liked the idea of taking a non-traditional approach to the classic art class model, a bonus being that they could decorate the school’s walls in a way that would enhance its learning environment–and break up some of that endless beige.

While Jed acknowledges that teaching art to teenagers can often be challenging — many of his students have little or no experience with art and tell him “They can’t do art. They suck” — the program has proved to be popular.

“Kids were on the verge of dropping out of school and they got in the muraling program and it was so different working with their hands and it was job-based and it was trust-based and they totally thrived.”

Thanks to an attentive, creative principal (Wiley herself teaches a steel-drum class), an active PTSA base, and an alumni board that is supportive of the arts, Franklin also has music, ceramics, visual art, and drama classes. A highlight of the year is the Franklin High School Arts Festival, preceded by a student talent show the evening before. This popular neighborhood event demonstrates the creative and entertaining side of Franklin’s student body.

As Elizabeth Lowry said to me as we left Franklin that afternoon, “the arts are what bridge the schools with the community.”

And that is exactly what Judy Camann’s yarn-bombing project accomplished in bringing me there.

A creative, community-building, low-cost, student/teacher/parent/knitters collaboration put together by a resourceful person seeking to celebrate the arts and teach her students. Does it get any better than that?

8 responses to “How Franklin High School Gets Its Art On

  1. Fantastic, interesting piece. Thank you.

  2. Thanks for writing the back story on this project. I’m the artist who created ‘Key Grove’ over 20 years ago as my first permanent public artwork. In my original proposal I’d intended for graffiti artists to create the final ‘patina’ and tried to bring along the Arts Commission, school administration and school district through a follow up residency in ’92 that got a little side-tracked by the LA Riots. Anyway, I just wanted the artists, organizers & students who participated in this yarn bombing to know that I deeply appreciate their work. Great project!

  3. I really enjoy instances when people interact with public art. This, I think, is the real hope and intention of most artists working in the public sphere.

  4. Franklin Principal Jennifer Wiley just received a 2011 Golden Apple Award for her exemplary work. Woo Hoo!
    And five of the eight individual award winners use art in their teaching. You can check out the full list at:

  5. Pingback: How to Help Your School Break Free of the Gallery Mentality | The Art of Ed

  6. Pingback: 33 Fiber Art Ideas For Your Classroom | The Art of Ed

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