Merrilee Gladkosky
Art and Enrichment Teacher
Cheshire Elementary School
Cheshire, Connecticut

from Regional Review

Friendship Dolls Coming to Chester

Last year, as I began to prepare for our art show to be held during High on Life week in May, I came across a wonderful set of coincidences: HIna Matsuri, Girls' Day or Dolls' Day, is celebrated in Japan on March 3rd of each year, and Children's Day or Boys' Day is celebrated on May 5th. Our art show was scheduled for May 5, 1999, and my personal hobby and art form is doll making. The serendipity was too much to ignore and so the faculty brought in their favorite dolls and we learned about the cultural significance of Hina Matsuri. Children brought in dolls of their own and we celebrated Hina Matsuri at Chester Elementary School for the very first time. It was the beginning of our all school journey to Japan to culminate in the art show. It was the perfect combination for art and enrichment and provided many opportunities for students to become involved in projects that reflected their individual interests and talents.

Central to the theme was an exchange of dolls which took place between Japan and the United States in 1927. It was begun by Dr. Sidney Gulick, a missionary, who thought that children getting to know other children through their toys and messages was the best hope for world peace in the future. This exchange took place prior to World War II when the relationship between the U.S. and Japan was strained. Children of the United States sent blue-eyed "momma dolls" to Japan along with letters of hope. In return, school children in Japan donated small sums and sent Friendship Dolls to each of the states complete with clothing and other accessories.  

We learned that Connecticut was sent two such dolls. One, Miss Chosen (Miss Korea), spent time in Korea before she traveled to the United States. She is in storage at the Science Museum at West Hartford waiting to become the focus of a fund raising project to be returned to her makers in Japan for restoration. The other, a doll given to the Ranette Museum in Stamford, remains missing.

Students in Chester learned about Japan by practicing many of their arts and crafts including calligraphy, Sumi-e, fish printing, making miniature gardens and Zen gardens and more. Sixth grade students formed a traveling storytelling troupe in the tradition of the Japanese storytellers. The whole school created kimonos from hospital gowns donated by Middlesex Hospital. We learned games, some language, and in general did an exploration level learning experience centered around the theme of Japan.

Meanwhile, little did we know that an interested party, Vicky DeAngelis of Japanese American Doll Enthusiasts, kept an eye on our progress via e-mail to me. This past October we were pleased and deeply honored to be chosen as recipients of some of a new generation of Friendship Dolls sponsored by the Mukogawa Fort Wright Institute and Japanese Cultural Center of Spokane, Washington. As I write this article, we are waiting the arrival of our package, a renewing symbol of our commitment to learn more about other cultures, particularly through the arts. We will continue to learn more about Japan and interact with the culture on deepening levels with our ambassador dolls.

In this instance and in so many others, the arts are a key to unlocking opportunities for learning. The arts are central and they are basic to every child's education and to imagine life without the arts is drab, if not impossible. They are the highest level of expression of a culture and among the most valued objects and experiences of our lives.

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