In October our studio and school has had to deal with the very sad occurrence of one of our children passing away. Due to a short and sudden illness we lost one of our little girls, Maddie Thompson. It was a huge shock to us all. The sense of loss has been immense.
Maddie was Managing Director of Room 13 Aragon, a member of the school council and also a playtime pals representative. The younger children adored her, as she did them. Maddie was also on the school football team and loved being a scout. Hence she enjoyed many camping trips and had many muddy experiences on her adventures with them! Maddie thrived on having adventures, and was not afraid of a challenge. Therefore when she was put forward to become Managing Director of Room 13 the vote was unsurprisingly unanimous. Maddie had a wisdom about her persona, a knowing look, a glance that penetrated deep within which allowed you to almost sense her thoughts.
I first had the honour of meeting and working with Maddie when she went into year 3 and started attending our studio on Wednesday lunchtimes. These sessions are always chaotic – like “tsunami waves” of children bursting with urgent creative energy and impatient ideas that are not always able to be realised due to the naive handling of paint, scissors and glue.
Some children come to play, some to cause trouble! Or some that are just curious about David and I. While we try our up most to keep some kind of general order, we never really succeed. During one of these sessions I spotted Maddie, head down and immersed in her work scribbling a birds’ eye view of the map of a building (using oil pastels). These children are like little creative stars and there are always a few disguised in the general mayhem of our Wednesday lunchtime sessions.
As I got to know Maddie it was evident that she was emerging as an artist and was particularly intuitive with colour, always exploring with it and never seeming to show any fear. Her marks were always determined, just like her nature and she had a simple style which managed to capture her understanding of form. Maddie was a child who very much inspired me and allowed me to pass my knowledge and experience on. She was also very decisive and she would only take from me what she wanted, and my suggestions became few as she blossomed with confidence allowing herself to work on her own subjects, themes and ideas. Maddie was undemanding, independent and self assured and not afraid to ask questions. I felt a sense of pride working alongside her and she used me like an artist would use an assistant.
Maddie was a prolific artist who worked at her pieces both within the studio and at home. Maddie would collect her own resources and ideas and constantly sketch. Maddie’s parents and brother are great supporters of Room 13 and helped her enormously with her artistic journey, attending exhibitions and visiting the studio to view her work.
Since Maddie’s death our studio has been a busy place. Children that have never entered the room before were coming in to make cards, images and write messages to Maddie, her parents and family. Initially after Maddie died we made a mini exhibition of Maddie’s work in one corner of the studio alongside her sketches and finished pieces. The children continued to come, look, touch and hold her work. They would also talk to David and I. It became a shrine as children left their own sketches and messages. The children were able to talk about their memories of Maddie and ask questions about her death such as, why it had happened? And how had it happened?
We did a lot of listening, but more importantly the shrine enabled the children to talk with one another, which was a positive thing as they did not require reassurance from David and I. There was one boy however who was struggling to be in the studio and amongst the outpourings of grief. It was far too overwhelming for him and he started to appear “out of hours”. This allowed him to feel comfortable just with adult one to one time. We made colourful paper chains which he wanted to hang around Maddie’s area. This particular boy still needs to visit on his own terms, but has now been able to return to his role on the committee, attending all meetings and enjoying his after school art sessions. This I think is evident of his emotional pain which he is now able to carry with him.
Prior to this corner becoming a shrine, Maddie’s parents visited the school a day or two after Maddie’s death. We met in the staff room, just at the time the conversation was running dry. My words of condolence were met with relief. I stressed how much of a privilege it had been to have met and worked alongside Maddie. This was also met with agreement from other staff members.
As a group we went to a tree where children had hung their messages and pictures for Maddie. We then went into the studio which allowed Maddie’s parents to feel more relaxed. This was obvious as they began talking and saying how much Maddie loved being in the Room 13 studio. I sensed some relief and happiness from them as they said they were able to feel her presence. This was an enormous honour to be able to share with them. We continued to chat whilst we looked through Maddie’s sketch books
We were able to support Maddie’s parents with the preparation and content for the funeral and wake by making laminated colour enlargements of all Maddie’s art work. We also transferred all of the images of Maddie and her art work onto a disc which enabled the parents to print the “famous rainbow” picture onto the order of service booklet, and to exhibit their daughters’ art work. They were also able to have a running slide show of all of her photographs in the venue that the wake was held. All but one or two pieces have now been given to the parents, which I am sure will be of a great comfort to them. In particular there was an African wooden mask which was discovered in the family garden under some bushes behind the shed. Maddie had decided to mosaic it but sadly was unable to complete it, so as requested by Mum I finished the mask in the style that Maddie had started with.
I continue to feel useful as our studio will continue to support not only Maddie’s family and friends, but the schools’ children, parents and adult employees.
Our Room 13 studio has been commissioned by the school to design, make and install a 12ft x 6ft mosaic for Maddie, working with the children, Maddie’s family and friends and all the adult employees of the school. This will go some way in helping those people to deal with the ongoing grieving process. This project is now well underway and is proving to be the most monumental community project I have ever experienced.
It is also validating our Room 13 studio within Aragon Primary School on so many levels and giving new meaning to the activities that occur within it. Providing a creative outlet to express and manage the grief of a school community is not a role we had ever imagined our studio fulfilling. Yet somehow it is in the nature of the essential creativity and humanity that Room 13 engenders, that we provide the space to reflect and respond. We can only be glad to be of service in a time of need and sadness.