Local Artist Seeks to Recapture Childhood Joy Through Community Art Project

by Janae Janik

Catherine Grisez holds one of the leaves that she is hoping reminds people of the carefree enthusiasm of jumping into piles of autumn foliage as children. She is collaborating with sponsors throughout Seattle to create hundreds of leaves and involve the community in the process. [Photo: Janae Janik
Catherine Grisez recently received pictures of her nephews excitedly jumping into piles of fallen autumn leaves.

While these pictures would make any aunt smile, it symbolized something more for Grisez, a South Seattle sculptor and jeweler.

Grisez is currently facilitating a collaborative community art project called “Part You”. Participants in the project create three-dimensional metal leaves which will then be combined to create one large pile, reminiscent of the ones that so many people jumped in as children.

Grisez’s inspiration for “Part You” came from a desire to help people recapture a sense of wonder that she says disappears in a world of so many distractions.

“There’s just this immense joy and pleasure found in such simple things that gets lost as we get older. So the act of making the leaves sort of brings back a piece of that to people and then the overall installation captures that idea aesthetically,” Grisez said.

So far, five events have taken place for “Part You” in partnership with multiple sponsors including the Seattle Metals Guild, Bellevue Arts Museum, Pratt Fine Arts, South Park Arts, Tin Dog Brewing, and the Seattle Office of Art and Culture. Two more are scheduled for December.

The leaf pile will be part of her larger show called “The Skin Within.” It will take place January through February at the Traver Art Gallery in downtown Seattle. All the art in the show will visually portray her interpretations of the emotions of different human experiences. She envisions the pile of leaves being a representation of childhood joy and simplicity.

“I wanted to focus on not just pain and suffering but also, like, joy and happiness and all different emotions which is what led to thinking about capturing this – that youthful experience of wonder and just how it is to experience something new again for the first time,” she said.

Originally, Grisez wanted everyone to hammer each leaf individually using thin sheet metal, but realized that many people wouldn’t want to spend the several hours required to make one leaf. In order for as many people to participate as possible, she hired her friend, Alex Seitz, to create a mold that could be used to press the sheet metal into leaves in a matter of minutes rather than a few hours.

This provided the best of both worlds because people who only had a short amount of time could make a leaf rather quickly and others who wanted to spend longer hammering in texture would have that option as well.

At the end of the show, all of the leaves will be donated to the annual Pratt art auction and the money will be used to help fund art classes for underserved teens.

Pratt Fine Arts is a nonprofit organization that provides a multitude of programs serving minorities and people living in the inner city of Seattle who would otherwise not be able to afford art classes.

There are many programs at Pratt Fine Arts that “Part You” will likely support, including free art classes on Sundays with priority registration for those with central area zip codes, and a tuition assistance program for both youth and adults. They also offer the Pohlman Knowles scholarship for teens ages 13 to 18, which is auctioned off at the annual Pratt art auction and the winning bid becomes the scholarship amount for the year.

All of these programs help to make art classes more affordable to a larger community and people participating in “Part You” will have the opportunity to be a part of that.

Besides cost, self-confidence can also be a huge barrier for why people don’t participate in art classes, says Myra Kaha, the youth and teen studio manager at Pratt.

She says that people often don’t believe they can make art.

“That’s a really unfortunate barrier because everyone has the potential to be an artist and whether or not you’re going to be spending your life making art, having that experience I think is really valuable because it teaches you how to problem solve and how to think differently,” Kaha said.

Slowing the pace of life down and looking at things differently is exactly what Grisez hopes this project accomplishes.

“We’re so quick now to go for the distraction, the phone or whatever else is out there, rather than just like sit with how something feels and really take that in and experience it,” she said.

Grisez says the most gratifying part of the project has been when an adult’s face lights up with that childhood joy as they create a leaf. It is then that she knows “Part You” is accomplishing what she had hoped.

“Seeing that in adult’s faces is really rewarding to me,” Grisez said. “Because it’s getting to the whole point of the project, is to bring that back to people.”

 If you would like to make a leaf and participate in “Part You” there are still two events left on Dec. 2 at the Bellevue Art Museum and on Dec. 10 at the “Art under $100 Holiday Sale” hosted by South Park Arts.  Both events are free to the public and open for all ages.

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