'The Alphabet Place' WordsAndPictures: Amy Unger's passion for literacy leads to an interactive art exhibit
by Amy Unger
I am in love with letters. I began walking the six miles of the Central Corridor in St. Paul last March-both the north and south sides of University Avenue, in search of letters. I was photographing images-a blue 'R' from a dumpster, a subtle 'H' from City Hall, the 'Q' from Frogtown Square. A collection of these "alphabet" photographs is currently on display in the children's area of the Rondo Library.
As we choose typefaces, font sizes, text colors and highlighting for our personal communications or projects, the alphabet itself is often overlooked. The letters become a vehicle for our aesthetic choices and thoughts. We forget that we might have struggled with a single letter in our early years.
I remember learning cursive handwriting when I was in third grade. For the life of me I could not produce a capital 'S.' My teacher informed me that I could not go on into fourth grade with my friends unless I produced that 'S.' I was terrified.
Now, that 'S' is long behind me and I get very little feedback on my handwriting. However, I have become passionate about each letter of the alphabet and about their collective foundational role in literacy.
Sixteen years ago, when my son, Isaac, was 3, he could not use a fork well, had no interest in his tricycle, and shied away from the ladder at the playground. I knew he needed some help and through sheer luck we were referred to a pediatric behavioral optometrist. Through evaluation and several years of vision therapy I learned many things about children's neurologic development, vision skills vs. visual acuity, and games that promote hand/eye coordination and literacy.
When Isaac started kindergarten in 2001 I volunteered in his classroom working with children who were struggling to learn the letter symbols and names (let alone the two faces of the alphabet with upper and lower cases). We made snakes out of paper and rubber stamped the ABC's in order, first in uppercase and then in lowercase.
Last summer, I volunteered in Debra Frasier's Alphabet Forest at the Minnesota State Fair and was inspired by her use of found letters. The previous summer, as an Americorps Literacy Tutor, I had volunteered at Heart of the Beast Puppet Theater and had the opportunity to visit with its founder, Sandy Spieler. I was impressed with her commitment and devotion to the use of simple materials that could be easily found in a kitchen, basement or attic. Earlier this year, I took hundreds of photos along the Central Corridor, "discovering" letters in nature and architecture. When I learned about the Irrigate, a creative placemaking grant opportunity for artists along the Central Corridor during the construction of the Light Rail-it all fell into place.
Today, Isaac plays half a dozen instruments, is one of the finest lyricists I know, rides his bike enthusiastically and makes wise decisions for himself in a complicated and often confusing world.
Amy Unger is a K-6 teacher, a practicing Brain Gym Instructor, a former AVID Tutor. She lives in St. Paul.
Amy Unger's Central Corridor alphabet photography exhibit is sponsored by Irrigate and the Rondo Library. It includes magnetic board games that support literacy and vision skills.
What: The Alphabet Place @ the Rondo Library Where: 461 N. Dale Street, St. Paul When: through Sept. 7, 2012 Cost: Free FFI: 651-266-7400