Ties Jan de Blij at Johnson Elementary School

For Johnson Elementary School students, 2023 has opened their eyes to art courtesy of Artist-in-Residence Ties Jan de Blij.

The Nahant Education Foundation (NEF) funded the program to “inspire climate action,” according to a press release from the Foundation, with Jan de Blij beginning his work with students on Jan. 18.

“Jan de Blij, an abstract expressionist, believes art can connect people and bring awareness to significant issues,” the press release said. “

It added that Jan de Blij is also enthusiastic about collective art creation, when many people are invited to contribute to the same work.

His commitment to reflecting global concerns in his art dovetails Jan de Blij’ work with the focus Johnson Elementary School has made since fall 2021 on climate change, Principal Kevin Andrews said.

“This program will be an incredible and unique opportunity to continue that programming,” said Andrews.

Students visited the Peabody Essex Museum to see an exhibition on climate change. Then, from Jan. 23 to 27, Jan de Blij worked with them to create an art display in the school.

The children used what they had learned about climate change and climate action to brainstorm ideas of what the display should look like, Jan de Blij said.

“We would like to find what made the biggest impression on them, what their experiences were like at the exhibits, and what stuck with them,” he said. “Have a more in depth conversation. So, these ideas that you guys have and these impressions that you have, how do they relate to each other? Can we identify common themes?”

He gathered the ideas and used them as inspiration to sketch the walls. The children then helped  paint his sketch, with the final result being two murals, one aquatic-themed and the other forest-themed. 

The aquatic mural, filled with fish and other sea creatures, is on the walls in the entrance of the school, Jan de Blij said.

“When you enter the school, you enter when you’re completely submerged,” Jan de Blij said. “The end of the ramp when you’re up your head gets above water.”

The forest mural is inside the library, he said. The idea for this one came from one of the prompts he gave to the students: If I close my eyes and think about climate change, the image that comes to my mind is…

“Most of them said animals, flowers and trees, so then I said, ‘Okay, let’s all design your own flower, your own tree and your own sea creature and then put that on these two locations,’” Jan de Blij said. “So only after the kids determined those are their themes I said ‘oh, let’s do that on that mural.’”

The students, he said, loved the final product. 

This was not the first time Jan de Blij has worked with the children of Nahant, he said. 

Last summer, he helped run an art summer camp with a marketing agency called RazHer Collaborative, where the children were able to contribute to an art piece through brainstorming and painting.

“I help them, I guide them, but the children make the art,” Jan de Blij said. “So that was quite a success and the children loved it.”

The upcoming program at Johnson Elementary School is something Jan de Blij wanted to be involved with because he is passionate about topics like climate change.

“I believe that if I can play a role in somehow inspiring the children to take action to create a better world then that’s, for me as an artist, you know, the ultimate goal,” Jan de Blij said.

Now with this project done, he is shifting his focus to opening a new gallery in Marblehead and to a new film project that will be done in Nahant.