Family Times: Handmade Nation

The creation of a city-state turned into art therapy, and only a knights’ tournament and a shadow-puppet theatre interrupted it.

While constructing and decorating the city-state, each child built their own house out of cardboard with windows, doors and even a small... stool. The task involved coloured tape, crepe and coloured self-adhesive paper, markers, pastels and paint. Parents helped the children to hang the curtains, decorate the walls and roof. Thanks to this active game where they had to use all their imagination, many of the older participants felt a few decades younger.

Preparation of home-made props for their nation turned into one big art therapy session. The children used lots of gouache to paint the cardboard, palms, hands and feet – and, of course, each other! The parents, in turn, dressed in special protective suits (like in a science lab) and freed their minds to the sounds of jazz. They experimented with paint (gouache and acrylics), forms and their absence, practiced painting in the style of Jackson Pollock and action painting.

After the city was built, the group devised and wrote down a whole set of laws, made personal seals and coats of arms, painted flags and outlined the borders of their territory, just like a real nation-state. Also, the city coined its own currency, with a financial market and a working economy, so the team learned to work the likely consequences of particular events occurring, counting money, to buy and sell. In a word, they felt like fully-fledged citizens in their own fictional mini-country.

A real knights’ tournament was held on one of the days on the huge football field of UWC Dilijan College, where the JUST DILIJAN IT! programme takes place. The kids made themselves armour and helmets out of cardboard and began to get to work: throwing spears into a ring, sack races, a tug of war (where the children dragged the adults!), fights with foam sticks, running between cones and other activities.

In the evening, the children and parents put together a shadow puppet performance, with a walking dragon in the title role. Under the guidance of the educators and counsellors, they drew figurines for the shadow theatre, recorded the voices for each puppet, distributed roles and rehearsed, and then put on the premiere brilliantly. And all this in a mere hour and a half. 

On this session, the active and inquisitive parents went on trips to the abandoned monastery of Matosavank, among other places, and climbed the steep path to the “drunken forest” where curved trees grow, as if they were dancing. From here you can look out over Dilijan and hold it in the palm of your hand.

Armenian culture was learned first-hand: the group studied the ornaments on the cathedrals and the architectural features, bought silver jewellery with traditional designs, tried the local cuisine and went to the local history museum. A trip on a boat on lake Sevan was a memorable experience and provided a unique feeling of freshness from the expanse of water.

At the end of the session, the townspeople staged a holiday in their states. There were rides, a fair, entertainment and a superb finale: an (almost) real dragon arrived at the city under its own steam, who immediately made friends with the group and held the colourful Holi Festival with them!