A mosaic of history and learning

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Belmont Elementary School student Ricky Carroll removes grout from a mosaic while classmates join in Tuesday during the final two days of preparation before a grand unveiling of the artwork on Thursday. Belmont Elementary School's Artist in Residence Lizz Van Saun and art teacher Katie Cotnoir used the art project as a learning experience in history, teamwork and other disciplines. (David Carkhuff/Laconia Daily Sun)

Belmont Elementary students craft artwork, learn larger lessons


BELMONT — A foray into Laconia's Pumpkin Festival sparked the idea of a schoolwide art project. Now, students at Belmont Elementary School are ready for the grand unveiling of their efforts, four mosaics created with recycled stained glass and decorative tiles, depicting the seasons and local history.
Belmont Elementary School hosted an Artist in Residence, Lizz Van Saun of Kast Hill Studio based in Hopkinton, for the lesson in mosaic artwork.
Art teacher Katie Cotnoir said it had been several years since Belmont Elementary School had brought in an Artist in Residence. The renewal of the program came from an unexpected source.
The school participated in Laconia's Pumpkin Festival, and the experience left an impression, she said.
"The entire school collaboratively carved pumpkins, and we all brought them to Laconia. It was really a whole school effort. It inspired me to be able to do something similar, have the entire school take part and be proud of a finished work of art that can be hung on the walls," Cotnoir said. "Every student can go up to the mosaics afterward and touch the work of art."
The four mosaics, contained on horizontal panels, will become a fixture, an installation that the community can enjoy for years to come, she said.
"This will be our first permanent work of art that we'll have as a school. It will be right in front of the office," Cotnoir said.
An unveiling of the mosaics, titled, "Seasonal and Historic Pieces of Belmont," is scheduled for 5:30 p.m. Thursday, March 30.
On Monday, March 20, students began crafting the multi-colored panels.
Fourth-grade students have been learning about historical buildings and landmarks in the community. Students brought in drawings that they made interpreting local history.
"They're learning about the history of Belmont," Van Saun said. "They're learning about buildings. The Belmont Historical Society came in and talked to them about the town. They also talked to some of the older people in town about the artwork."
Van Saun said the concept of mosaics — a form of artwork where small pieces of glass or other materials create a larger image — conveyed more than just an artistic discipline.
"They love it. Mosaic making, to me, the whole purpose of it is building community," Van Saun said.
"Everybody comes in and adds pieces. Pieces are really a metaphor for all of us. Each piece represents a person, and without that piece, the mosaic isn't complete. Every person matters. Every piece matters."
Sophia Gilbert, 10, said, "Teamwork was a big part of it so you have to work together to get things done."
Jackson Embree, 9, said he adopted the Belmont Mill as his historical fixture. "Amazing. They took a lot of work, but it was worth it," he said.
Embree said he likes to design things. And the project taught him something new: "The different types of glass, there's stained glass. I didn't even know about stained glass. I just thought there was glass glass."
As a teaching artist, Van Saun is on a roster with the New Hampshire State Council on the Arts, a division of the Department of Cultural Resources that typically provides 10 to 14 Artist in Residence grants every year.
New Hampshire State Council on the Arts grant coordinator Julianne Gadoury said the school received an Artist in Residence grant of $770, with the school matching the grant with school resources and in-kind donated services.
"The goal of the program is to bring high quality artists into the school to enrich the curriculum and give students exposure to an art form and experience that they might not have as part of their school day," Gadoury said.
Van Saun was able to meet with all of the students in the school and share the lesson on mosaics, an important aspect of the program, Gadoury said. The students used cutting tools and learned a vocabulary that was outside of their everyday educational experience, she noted.
Gilbert said she adopted a local church as her historical landmark and she spent a great deal of time building the panel that depicts winter.
"I did a lot of work. I did most of the sky and some of the road," she said. "It was really fun to do, and it was really fun to learn about."


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Belmont Elementary School's Artist in Residence Lizz Van Saun holds up a mosaic that depicts Belmont in the winter. Students (from left) Ricky Carroll, Trace Asselin, Jackson Embree, Ashlee Knox and Sophia Gilbert brush off grouting material. (David Carkhuff/Laconia Daily Sun)

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Belmont Elementary School art teacher Katie Cotnoir joins fourth-grade students, including Jackson Embree (front right), in preparation of a mosaic as part of a school project supported by the New Hampshire State Council on the Arts. (David Carkhuff/Laconia Daily Sun)

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Belmont Elementary School's Artist in Residence Lizz Van Saun (left) joins fourth graders in applying grout to a mosaic that depicts Belmont in the winter. Teacher Katie Cotnoir is joined by (from left) Ricky Carroll, Sophia Gilbert, Jackson Embree and Ashlee Knox. (David Carkhuff/Laconia Daily Sun)