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North Neighborhoods
Entertainer breathes life into Picasso for Hampton pupils

Wednesday, February 20, 2002

By Kathleen Ganster

If the art of Pablo Picasso can be difficult to understand for some adults, imagine how perplexing it can be for children.

Enter Picasso People, a husband and wife team from Lancaster, N.Y., whose goal is to educate children about the artist's work.

"I bring Picasso alive for the students," said Carlton Van Pyrz, who travels to 10 states to tell children about the artist.

When he visited Poff Elementary School in Hampton on Feb. 12, Picasso projects created by the pupils were displayed in the hallways outside the school office and cafeteria.

"I love to see the kids have been prepared before my visit," Van Pyrz said. "Here, they welcomed me with their Picasso gallery. It is great."

All of the pupils at Poff studied Picasso during January under the direction of art teacher Janis Allen.

A former ballet dancer, Van Pyrz and his wife, Deanna, became mimes and in 1996. They added Picasso People to their entertainment business, Mime Internationale.

Now that they have two young children, Van Pyrz travels by himself to perform at schools, doing 150 to 180 school shows a year, he said.

In addition to music and acting, his performances feature elaborate masks and costumes, prints of Picasso's work and a model of one of his sculptures.

"We took out a $10,000 loan against our house to have the masks and costumes made," he said. "I am happy to say we were able to pay it off in three years."

An Italian mask maker created the large, plaster Picasso head that Van Pyrz wears.

"This weighs 11 pounds," he told the children, holding up the head. "I strap it on my head with a bicycle helmet that is inside."

Throughout his one-hour performance, Van Pyrz teaches the children about Picasso's work and his life.

"Did you know that Picasso also did sculpture?" Van Pyrz asked the pupils. He provides teachers with a guide to help link the performance to the art curriculum.

The presentation was paid for by the Poff Parents Association and the Hampton Alliance for Excellence in Education.

"Picasso was the creator of cubism, collage and assemblage," Allen said, and the projects each grade created to prepare for the performance reflect that.

The kindergarten pupils drew hands holding flowers, similar to Picasso's "Mains aux Fleurs." The first-graders made a collage of fragmented magazine pictures, adding color and lines with oil pastels. The second-graders painted "The Girl with the Ponytail" after Picasso's model and read the book of that title. Third-graders made a pottery sculpture. The fourth-grade pupils made a block printing of a cubist portrait, and the fifth-graders assembled an abstract face using wood, magazines pictures and markers.

Van Pyrz also brings youngsters on stage for some of his skits.

At Poff, first-grader Tira McCall dressed in a simple costume Van Pyrz gave her and danced. "It was fun," she said. "I had a lot of fun."

Chances are she'll remember Picasso and his work for a long time.


Kathleen Ganster is a free-lance writer.

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