West African artist Won-Idy Paye has been teaching students at Law-ton Elementary School a variety of cultural activities through his residency, which began Oct. 6 and continues through the end of next week.
During his three residencies, each lasting two weeks, Paye has instructed students in multicultural arts through a series of engaging presentations. He has worked with students at all grade levels, focusing on different media with each group of pupils. For instance, some students worked with "stick figures" in artistic process while others played percussion instruments.
Frank Winterer, whose son, Cam-eron, attends third grade at Lawton, was able to witness Paye's technique firsthand - at both the kindergarten and third-grade levels. Winterer said he was impressed at how the students responded to the multidimensional aspect of Paye's presentations, which included dancing, mask making, mnemonics and storytelling.
"He's a very engaging, funny storyteller," he said. "Kids just love him, and he loves to work with the kids."
Indeed, a large component of Paye's teaching process involves the ages-old oral tradition that is such a powerful aspect of African cultures.
"Liberian art, music, dance and storytelling are a lifestyle," Paye said. "They are sociological and cultural studies of Liberian people."
Paye hails from Tapita, which is located in the northeastern region of Liberia. He is a member of the Tlo Ker Mehn, the class of professional Dan entertainers who are keepers of the oral tradition. As a child, Paye learned drumming, instrument making, dancing, wood carving, mask making, fabric dyeing and mural painting - essentially the entirety of the traditional arts that create the cultural identity of the Dan people.
A significant part of Paye's education occurred at Tapita's market arena days, when buyers and sellers would congregate in the village. Such days were not exclusively reserved for the business of money-making; they also served as a source of cul-tural trans-mission, as dancers and storytellers and magicians gathered to celebrate the coming together of people from regions near and far.
"A life span of a thousand years could come to life in one single market day," Paye said. "On this day a town would become a big orchestra and seem to hug the sky. In my mind the arena was endless as the day met the night."
Drawing from such considerable cultural knowledge, Paye weaves an interactive and multidimensional universe in the classroom that literally begs for student participation. According to Winterer, the presentations he sat in on involved having kindergartners working with rhythm on traditional African instruments, as well as making masks that were interpretive of the dances they were doing. Third-graders, on the other hand, were regaled by Paye's story about his first experience with Halloween in this country.
"The kids were really energized," Winterer said. "For them to see a completely different culture than they're used to, it gives them a feeling for art and music and history all in one.
"That's what I thought was really strong about it."
Apparently, this combination of teaching and cultural interaction has a beneficial affect. Winterer said that many of the kids, when asked to name African countries, were able to recall up to 10 or 15 on the continent. (A feat many adults would be hard pressed to replicate, no doubt.)
Winterer's wife, Shelley, is co- vice president of Lawton PTA, as well as author of the school's news-letter. She said such artist residencies as Paye's go a long way toward achieving one of the school's goals for a multifaceted student educa-tion.
"The thing with our school," she said, "one of our main goals every year is to provide the students with cultural experiences that are life- altering."
Of Paye's recent contribution, she added: "We just feel that he has brought a lot into our community."