This vibrant, blue paper maché dragon inspired students at Marlinton Middle School from its perch on a cabinet in art teacher Margaret Baker’s classroom. Photo courtesy of Margaret Baker

Bonnie Gifford
Contributing Writer

When Art teacher Margaret Baker reviewed her 2017-18 budget for art supplies for the Marlinton Middle and Elementary Schools, she knew she needed to get fiscally creative.  How could she purchase quality materials for her students during a time of financial belt-tightening in education?

Her thoughts alighted on the four foot long paper maché blue dragon that mysteriously appeared in her Marlinton Middle School classroom last year. It has held court from atop the cabinet in the art room since it arrived.

“It is a glorious creation, obviously handmade and beautifully done, and the kids just love it,” Baker said.

It has sparked the imagination of the students, some whimsically questioning if it comes alive at night.

“Many of them asked if they can take it home,” Baker revealed. “I initially thought I would give it as a prize to a student who made an exceptional work of art, but have now decided they could all have the chance to win it if I held a drawing for it. A drawing would have the added benefit of raising some funds for art supplies.”

So Baker made arrangements for a spot in the Opera House during Pioneer Days to display the dragon and offer tickets.

“We’ll accept donations, too,” she added. “All to support the art programs at the schools.”

When asked about the benefits of art classes, Baker is enthusiastic in her response.

“There are good reasons why West Virginia supports an art curriculum,” she said.  “Art not only helps stimulate creativity and improve visual perception, it also helps with critical thinking and problem solving. These skills can be helpful in any other subject, especially those that may require a visual presentation, like a social studies or science fair project. Young children gain confidence and improved motor skills. Some students who struggle academically can excel in art, giving them a sense of achievement and accomplishment.

“Art has been with us since the cave man days, helping us humans process our spiritual and material world.  In addition, there are many jobs that require art skills, including graphic designer, illustrator, animator,  cartoonist and photo- grapher. And let’s not forget the ‘good for your soul’ aspect: focusing one’s imagination and attention on an original creation can be relaxing and enjoyable and a celebration of the individual.

“In Chinese art, the dragon is a symbol of power, strength and good luck.  We hope our blue dragon brings those qualities to our student artists.”