Teaching art in Whanganui Prison

23 April 2012
Artist Carol Gash started working as an art tutor at Whanganui Prison in 2010 when one of the prison chaplains asked her if she would teach art to the prisoners.

Carol Gash and son, AaronBefore this, she had been accompanying her husband as part of a group visiting the prison to teach and encourage Christian prisoners. “I wanted to show these men that God offers them a hope and a future,” Carol says.

After six months working as a volunteer tutor, the Department of Corrections offered Carol a contract as a paid art tutor. At the moment, she teaches one class, which runs for a full day. There are hopes to start another class soon.

Carol is mostly a self-taught artist but took a correspondence course with The Learning Connexion, where she studied for two-and-a-half years.

“My aim is to help the men put together a portfolio of work they can use if they’re wanting to go further in their studies of art,” she explains. “Some of the men are studying through The Learning Connexion, and I’m able to help and encourage them in their studies.”

Carol and Aaron Gash prepare work for their art class in Whanganui Prison Carol begins a new class by teaching basic skills in drawing, composition and colour theory. The classes have done work in still life, drawing, portraiture and design.  Different mediums used include pencil, coloured pencil, watercolour and acrylic. 

The class looks at different styles of artists and discusses them. The men also keep art diaries where they record ideas and keep the lessons that Carol provides.   

The current class is exploring landscape painting. Carol has photographs and calendars enlarged and laminated to provide inspiration.

Encouraged to be creative

However, the men are encouraged to be creative and not to copy other’s work.  “The men are producing some fine work. I’m also finding that my own artwork has improved greatly as a result of my preparing and trying out ideas for lessons.”

In late 2011, Carol invited her son, Aaron, who had just finished a Bachelor of Fine Arts, to join her as a volunteer.

“I wanted to let him see what it would be like to teach art,” she says. “The men like to watch Aaron at work and they ask lots of questions.”

Carol and Aaron now share the teaching and both paint alongside the men, using this as a form of teaching and to encourage them. Looking ahead, Carol would like to have an exhibition displaying the prisoners’ and the tutors’ artwork side by side, so that people can see the quality of the work.
An atmosphere of trust has been developed in the class, enabling the work to be critiqued. 

“The men are able to talk about their work and encourage each other,” Carol says. “I’ve been privileged to see the men grow in confidence and gain a belief in themselves.”


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