Amber Lichfield has the gentle manner and animated expressions that would make any preschooler feel welcome in her classroom. She is not, however, a preschool teacher. Lichfield is a middle school math teacher at Rocky Mountain Academy of Evergreen — and an artist.
Lichfield, who trained in both mathematics and art at Southern Utah University, is volunteering her free time as part of the annual KidArt program at RMAE. Each year, professional artists visit RMAE to share their skills with budding artists in every grade. RMAE is a public charter school that opened in 2001; its students live in Evergreen and throughout the 285 Corridor.
“The greatest thing about the KidArt program is that it truly lives up to its name,” says Valerie Tomasi the KidArt coordinator at RMAE. “These artists are introducing the kids to the real world of working art. The artists work collaboratively with the teachers to create a project specific to each classroom. They help with the materials and techniques, but it’s the kids who are really creating the pieces.”
Lichfield is working this year with the 4- and 5-year-olds in Debbie Caruso’s junior kindergarten class. The idea for Lichfield’s project, “Carousel Watercolors,” evolved from Caruso’s curriculum.
“Four years old is such a milestone for kids,” says Lichfield. “They are really discovering who they are and what they like. These kids have been learning a lot about themselves this year at school. Education also goes full circle. I learn as much from my daughter as I teach her. I thought the idea of a carousel would capture that cyclical nature of learning, while allowing the kids to choose things like the color of their horse or the pattern on its blanket.”
Lichfield spent time visiting with the students from Caruso’s class, including Lichfield’s own daughter, Ella. She photographed the kids and interviewed them about their favorite things. Lichfield then sketched detailed portraits of each student riding a carousel horse. Even the horses indicate bits of the children’s personalities. An energetic boy named Brody appears on a bucking bronco, while Ella’s horse is more regal and demure, perhaps fit for a girl who loves princesses.
Lichfield works with the children to teach them watercolor painting techniques. She introduces them to concepts such as brush size and texture, proper application of the paint and caring for their tools. The 24 children from Caruso’s pre-kindergarten classes will each choose their own colors and design elements, and work together to complete the carousel portraits.
Meanwhile, Lichfield will continue teaching in her own middle school classroom.
“It’s such a great combination, math and art,” Lichfield says. “I always had paintbrushes in my backpack when I was on my way to a math class. You don’t see that very often, but math is very artistic if you think about it. Problem solving, dimensions and understanding how things work and move has a lot to do with imagination and artistic ability.”
Lichfield’s collaborative “Carousel Watercolors” will be up for live auction on Friday, Feb. 20, at the sixth annual A Night for the Academy fund-raiser at Red Rocks Amphitheatre in Morrison. For more information or to purchase tickets, contact Marie Lynch at 303-674-6692. Or you can visit RMAE’s online auction at www.rmae.cmarket.com.
Sara Miller, a freelance writer and a resident of Evergreen, lives with her husband, two children and a dog.