Tammy Frazier wouldn’t argue that she’s got among the cooler job titles as art education curator at the Louisiana Art and Science Museum in downtown.
“I absolutely love my job,” she said, stopping occasionally at each table Saturday in the art classroom to answer questions about the day’s project.
On Saturday, Frazier taught a group of about 20 children and parents a little about the history and purpose behind mandalas — a piece of artwork, usually circular, that includes perfectly symmetrical elements in each of four quadrants.
“The word mandala in Sanskrit means unity and represents balance,” Frazier said.
The art form has been around for thousands of years, she said, and is easy to teach because it’s so well-represented in nature. A slice of an orange, or banana, a horizontally sliced apple, snowflakes, starfish, cells or heads of kale can, with the right perspective, be a mandala.
Once you start looking for them, you find them everywhere, she said.
But sparking that creative connection to the beauty of symmetry is not only a way to reliably produce a piece of art — no matter how artistic one considers themselves to be — it’s also a handy way to teach radial symmetry, or the quality of having two symmetric halves.
“We try to make learning about science fun,” she said.
Jan Faulkner, who attended the workshop with her granddaughter Jorja Harp, 6, said that element of fun is what keeps them coming back. “Learning shouldn’t be work. It should be more like play,” she said.
“I’m learning about symmetry,” Harp said, gluing shapes to her mandala. To be symmetrical, she said, “it all has to be the same.”
Jorja explained how she was constructing the mandala, which first requires several sheets of decorative or colored paper folded into fourths. She trimmed the outside edge of one piece of paper, cutting a pattern of her choosing along the non-folded sides, then unfolded it to reveal a perfectly symmetrical circle divided into fourths by the fold lines.
She repeated the process with the other sheets of paper, this time cutting random shapes out of the squares to form identical pieces that she pasted, in order, to each quadrant.
“And it makes beautiful, beautiful, beautiful pictures,” she said.
“We’ve come to every program here at the museum since she was 2 years old,” Faulkner said. “We’re here at least once a week. I believe the experiences she’s had here have allowed her to go to WHAM (Westdale Heights Academic Magnet) and be successful there.”
Nikki May, who is relatively new to the museum, brought her two children, Finley, 8, and Rex, 6. They all work on separate mandalas, but May admits, she’s learned a lot from her children’s more carefree approach to the art.
“I tend to overthink it,” May said, laughing, while Rex stood at her elbow, making and passing along shapes he’d made. Once the come together, May said, “it’s a really cool thing to see.”
The art classes almost always include some element of science to them, Frazier said. “The two are not as far apart as many people think.” While technically for children ages 6 to 12, Frazier said, “we often have younger children in the class. And older, for that matter.”
Classes are offered the second Saturday of every month, said Douglas Kennedy, communications coordinator for the museum, along with many other programs for children of all ages.
For more information on programming, visit the museum’s website at www.lasm.org.