Displaying Children's Art Beyond the Refrigerator Door

From first scribbles to realistic renderings, school projects can become mouse pads, jewelry, even quilts

School days bring with them a steady stream of PTA notices, lunch menus, and, of course, artwork that is proudly toted home.

Parents of toddlers or preschoolers eagerly anticipate the wonderful deluge of homemade art projects.

Those with slightly older children, however, may feel daunted by the collection they've already amassed and a bit apprehensive about adding to it. Even the most organized parent may be overwhelmed by closets bulging with boxes and bags of paintings, drawings, and sculptures.

Most parents realize that these precious artworks are important chronicles of childhood. They are visual diaries bound to include friends, family, and pets - real or imaginary, various interests and insights - all reflecting different stages of development and artistic styles. Quite simply, children's artwork helps remember what a child was like - and what he or she liked.

So tossing out such treasures isn't easy. And yet, some weeding is essential. The most meaningful masterpieces can be preserved, displayed, and turned into thoughtful gifts. (The days from September to December zoom by quickly.)

They also make unique fund-raiser items. When my daughter was in pre-school, we designed a T-shirt using some of the children's artwork. It quickly became a classic - and it also brought in thousands of dollars.

So what's a parent to do with all these treasures?

First and foremost, put them up. It shows that you value your child's efforts, and this validation definitely gives them a boost.

The refrigerator door is the historic home of first-edition prints. Beyond that, frame a few of the more special pieces and hang them as you would any other piece of favored artwork.

You can also make art books by putting the original drawings in a simple presentation notebook - the kind with plastic insert pages that are found in large stationary stores. Or try color-xeroxing the work and using the copies to make an art book. The effect of the saturated colors enhances the most simple lines or complex scribbles.

Then, buy several inexpensive cardboard portfolios of different sizes for long-term storage of flat artwork.

Probably most important of all is to take pictures of the pictures. Create a chronological photo album of the artwork. Photographs also get around the problem of awkward three-dimensional constructions made of cardboard, found objects, clay, papier-mch, balloons, and other unwieldy or fragile pieces.

Anything you can do with a photo of a person, you can do with a photo of a piece of art. The opportunities are endless. Here are some of the most original I've come across:

* Unique Personal Gifts - From photographs, create your own art calendar, vinyl laminated place mats, kitchen aprons, baseball caps, and ceramic photo artwork mugs.

Starting at $9.95. Show & Tell Inc. (860) 533-0010.

* Custom Light-Switch Plates, Photo Memo Cube, Art Photo Playing Cards Additional ways to transform images of your children's artwork into memorable, functional, and wonderful gifts.

Starting at $14.95. Exposures Catalog. 800-222-4947.

* Art Photo Puzzle - Turn a favorite piece of artwork into a full-color, 150-piece jigsaw puzzle. Requires only a glossy color print, and you will receive an expertly crafted chipboard, gift-boxed 11-by-14-inch puzzle.

No. 9896, $22.50, Paragon Catalog. 800-343-3095.

* Masterpiece Mouse Pad - A functional use for a whimsical drawing. This kit seals a single work under a laminated cover on a flexible mouse pad. All you need is the artwork and an iron.

No. 05044, $14, Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, catalog. 800-225-5592.

* Custom Photo Note cards - Send a photo of a favorite art piece and receive color or black-and-white cards, with or without a greeting. Set of 20 6-by-8-inch cards and 20 white envelopes.

No. 270101, Cards With Greeting, $49.95. Cards Without Greeting, $39.95. Exposures Catalog. 800-222-4947.

* Personalized Photo Art Quilt Squares This is a new idea that puts a twist on an old-fashioned family keepsake. Your child's artwork is transferred onto cut fabric squares for approximately $5 per square. You combine this with other fabrics and design and create your own heirloom.

Call for more information. Show & Tell Inc. 860-533-0010.

* The Imaginate Book Kit - Don't let important pictures and papers perish. Instead, publish them so they'll last forever. The kit includes supplies for two hardcover books: 40 sheets of quality book paper, reusable hardwood book press, durable book covers, nontoxic glue, and simple directions.

Cost is $24.95. Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, catalog. 800-225-5592.

* KiDoodles - One-of-a-kind jewelry in sterling silver or 14-karat gold made from a reproduction of your child's drawing. North Carolina artist Joy Hannan-Copanezos creates the original jewelry in the form of a pin, tie tack, earrings, or necklace.

Prices start at $45. KiDoodles. 800-459-7215.

* Three-Dimensional Steel Garden Sculptures - This is the ultimate in capturing a child's vision. Sculptor Bryan Tedrick of Glen Ellen, Calif., who normally designs and builds artistic gates and arbors, was charmed and challenged by his own children's art. Thus was born his first 8-foot-tall garden sculpture of salvaged metal and wooden parts. (See the sculpture and original drawing at left.)

Similar pieces sell for about $3,000; smaller ones for less. Write to Bryan Tedrick Designs, PO Box 793, Glen Ellen, CA 95442, or call (707) 938-9311.

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