ALLEGANY, NY – The five girls walking through the doors of the Cattaraugus County Arts Council at 100 W. Main St. shortly before 10:30 a.m. on Thursday looked excited, and education coordinator Ardyth VanScoy greeted them by their first names: Grace, Emma, Jade, Alyssa and Sam.

For three days the girls had been hard at work making clay sculptures by hand. Each walked past the clay mugs, ceramics and garden art on display in the front window, the ceramics lining the left wall, and the photographs adorning the right wall and took seats at the long wooden table in the center of the room.

The smell of clay and hard work filled the air. Dusty handprints from the previous classes dotted the table on which VanScoy had set their projects, each with a name carved into the dried clay. VanScoy went around the room and asked Grace, Emma, Jade, Alyssa and Sam what colors they wanted to paint with: blue, red, white, yellow, turquoise or black. Most of the girls picked them all.

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The girls were participating in the Clayventure pottery projects program the council offered for area children during the weeklong winter break that started with Presidents Day. The New Artists sessions from 9 to 10 a.m. were open to children 4 to 7, and the Young Artists sessions from 10:30 to noon were for children 7 to 11.

During the weeklong programs, the New Artists made birdbaths and garden bells, and the Young Artists made chimes, birdfeeders and planters. Attendees spent the first three days sculpting their projects and the last two painting and glazing their dried work.

“We want to offer the kids something that might not be readily available in school, especially clay projects,” VanScoy said. “There are a lot of schools that can’t afford a kiln and glazes.”

On Thursday, the girls chatted as they painted, asking each other about their outfits, their hairstyles and the warm weather.

VanScoy, who noted she likes to interact with children by playing games that “make them think,” challenged the girls to think of food, animals and mammals whose names start with each letter in the alphabet.

“I have found that if you play music with the kids they spend more time singing and dancing,” VanScoy said. “I try to make it fun for the kids, but I also want them to get something out of it. It’s something to keep them thinking.”

VanScoy takes pride in the fact that she does not interfere with the children’s creativity.

 “I am very much a proponent of letting the kids do their own projects. Whatever comes out, they made it,” she said. “It’s very important to me that they get to make their own.”

As the education coordinator for the arts council, VanScoy, who holds a bachelor’s degree in visual arts from St. Bonaventure University, schedules the various programs and activities for children and adults.

“I know it is hard to get the kids out because they’ve got so much to do and pick from,” VanScoy said with a laugh. “But we want to make sure that the arts are available for them because it helps in all aspects of education and general development.”

The arts council is funded through a New York State grant to nonprofits.

“Giving the kids something to do and a time to be creative is important because it is being cut out of schools unfortunately,” VanScoy said sadly. “We definitely want to have as many different styles of art available to the community through kids and adults.”

The arts council also offers spring break and summer classes for children and has open studio times when adult members can create their own works of art.

Information on upcoming programs is available on the art council’s website.