Who among us did not possess a childhood haunted by arts and crafts projects, completed and half completed, a myriad collection so convoluted and motley, so wretched and ill conceived, that looking back now it is remarkable how excited and delighted were our parents upon the presentation of each new addition to the menagerie.
For one mysterious reason or another, Camp Directors, and their surrogates the counselors were hell-bent on convincing our parents that we were all budding Picassos and Michaelangelos. Inclement weather, or sometimes just the promise of a passing shower, saw us relegated to the camp-house where, assigned to long tables and inhaling the stale, humid air, we awaited the distribution of the ingredients of the weekly arts and crafts project. I am convinced that camp directors purchased the supplies from a single purveyor. How else to explain that well before Labor Day, each and every bungalow—from Monroe to Parksville—had been decorated with a similar cacophony of chaserai.
The various and sundry projects included the ubiquitous Popsicle stick jewelry box, replete with decorous seashells and multi-hued glitter, all held together by gobs of Elmer’s glue and a counselor’s fervent prayer. It is unlikely any authentic jewelry ever found a home inside one of these concoctions, but they did come in handy for storing hairpins, safety pins, and lose change.
Then there was the copper engraving. We sweated and strained over a small sheet of copper, intent on creating a masterpiece in metal, a fabulous likeness of, well, whatever the viewer thought it to be. One summer my grandfather mistook my Abraham Lincoln for a kangaroo. So, it was a kangaroo. After all, he was past seventy years old and had survived the Czar’s army and a string of pogroms, so if he saw a kangaroo, who was I to argue?
There was a vast array of creations in clay. We used the modeling clay, getting our fingers into the action, small bits alive beneath our young fingernails for weeks to come, and eventually saw our design come to be—a small case, a candy dish, an ashtray. Then, painted in the most revolting combination of colors imaginable, it was off to the oven, or kiln, where the enamel baked to the clay, a testimony to our poor taste and utter lack of talent fixed for all eternity.
Of course, there was a plethora of finger painting, and what camper ever finished off a summer without the obligatory handprints, done either with paint or in plaster of Paris. The latter project was a minor annoyance and seemed silly in my youth, yet I must admit that today, as a parent of daughters racing through adolescence, the tiny toddler handprints they created one lost, rainy summer afternoon are among my most guarded treasures.
Long, thin straps of vinyl, called “lanyards”, were always popular. The trouble with lanyards, though, was that the stitches required to create something recognizable usually a key chain, whistle chain or cat o nine tails were too complicated and intricate for our small hands and limited patience. So our counselors spent their entire day at the pool, at lunch, on hikes, during milk and cookie breaks, even after hours, completing our lanyards. I recall one of the girl’s counselors, Jackie, being so adept with this nonsense that by summer’s end every camper had at least a few samples of her handiwork.
Through the many day-camp seasons we created birdhouses and name signs for the bungalows, innumerable ashtrays, jewelry boxes, refrigerator paintings, picture frames and costume jewelry. It is likely that each summer small forests were leveled to fulfill the order of obligatory Popsicle sticks.
The arts and crafts supplies were purchased well before the season began, and a string of rainy days at the start of summer was a camp director’s nightmare. The projects were exhausted by mid-July, and how to fill empty hours if the inclement weather continued?
Still, for however onerous and displeasing were the hours spent toiling with those arts and crafts assignments, I wish I’d had the foresight to stow away a few, somewhere safe and warm, guarded against the pull of time, so that I might have showed them to my children, and convinced them that they were not the only ones to suffer such indignities, and, that, in fact, at some date far into their futures they might delight in the small pleasure discovered by holding forth an ugly ashtray, created by their own small hands.
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