Updated: Feb 3, 2022
By Annie Newcomer:
In Part 1 of this article on children and the arts, I introduced you to the Wang family and shared 6-year-old Hannah’s vibrant painting of a peacock that she gifted me. I also included 7-year-old Helen’s interview with her mother where Helen expresses her love of poetry and shares wonderful tips for you through a child’s eyes on poetry recitation.
In Part 2 of this article, we head to South America and to the home of Laura Chalar, a prominent poet/essayist/translator, lawyer, and young mother originally from Uruguay.
I have had the good fortune to connect with some talented poets from all across the world in my walk with poetry. In this gifted mix I hold Laura in the highest esteem. So it came as no surprise to me that her young daughter, Filu, is also remarkable. I will present Laura’s story and poetry in a future article, but today let’s learn about 8-year-old Filu and explore Laura and Filu’s Photography Collaboration that took flight during the early days of the 2020 Pandemic. Filu has agreed to share the photography and allowed me to interview her.
Filomena María Mulvey Chalar is an eight-year-old who lives in Argentina with her parents and has strong family connections in Uruguay. Her given name, Filomena, means "strong love" or, according to other sources, "lover of strength." At school and at home she is called Filu. Filu’s mother Laura has always loved the visual arts. I was first introduced to Laura several years ago after I read her beautiful poetry in Coal City Review and reached out to meet her in hopes of learning more about her work. A Kansas University professor gave us a cyber introduction, and we have been friends ever since. At the time of the introduction, Filu was only a toddler.
Filu has grown up with books in hand and was taught to welcome them as companions. Indeed, Laura’s enthusiasm for literature and the arts were gifts she thoughtfully and enthusiastically demonstrated to and shared with her young daughter. Indeed, my children’s wall at home includes samples of Filu’s little fascicles (little bundles of poems imitating the ones Emily Dickinson created) crafted at around age two.
This past year due to the pandemic, Filu has, like many children, not had access to school. However, she has continued to write at home. Her latest stories feature her closest friends and her in all sorts of wonderful adventures involving mermaids, tritons, and elves. Filu also started writing a story about a girl named Lisa who is Einstein’s great-great-great- granddaughter and who works in an all-girls lab, determined to prove that women can be smart scientists.
So with a curious and very active child at home during the pandemic, Laura shared that she worried to no end and was kept on her toes looking for interesting projects that she and her daughter could do together. This led to Laura and Filu collaborating on a project that combined their love of photography with art. They elected to create photography based on imitating great masterpieces, with Filu dressing up as the main subject. Working closely together, the mother enlisted her daughter’s input and included Filu’s ideas and choices. Indeed, she allowed Filu to make the final choices on the photographs they selected.
This project was fun and a natural fit for both mother and daughter. First, they researched famous art from pictures and books from collections in their home and then hunted through their closets for clothes matching the art pieces to dress Filu as closely as they could. Then came perhaps the longest part—Filu sitting still in time for Laura to snap the photo.
What a clever way to engage a child in the history of art and in the importance of observation to detail that is so important for an artist. Also, in a sense, bringing the art to the child in this way helps the art become a part of the child’s personal history too. I believe this exercise is a type of unlayering of a painting that creates a scaffold for one’s child to climb that creatively assists in their artistic development.
Please savor these beautiful photographs that Filu and Laura fashioned in this mother-daughter collaboration and enjoy Filu's interview with me.
Interview With Filu:
AN: Hi, Filu. I loved your dress-up photography. Are you pleased with how the photos turned out?
FILU: Yes, I am. I had fun doing them; my favorite is the little princess (Verspronck's "Girl Dressed in Blue").
"Girl in a Blue Dress" by Johannes Cornelia Verspronck. . . and Filu
Filu’s mom on the wardrobe for the Verspronck piece:
The lace collar is an accessory I bought in Amsterdam, so quite appropriate for the occasion, being originally Dutch! The jacket and dress are Filu's own. The pearls, earrings, bracelet, and hair brooch are all mine. The lace mantilla had previously been worn by Filu as part of a nineteenth-century costume for some national holiday at school. The pampas grass she holds in her hand was originally in a vase in our living room!
AN: May I ask you how it felt to dress up as a famous person?
FILU: It felt . . . nice, strange, and as if I was living in another time.
AN: What might you tell other children who might like to try this fun experience so that their moms can help them?
FILU: I'd tell them to try it! You don't need to buy anything, just use things you have at home, like we did. It helped us pass the days in lockdown. Having my dog Bruno also helped; he's a good companion. I wanted to put him in one of the paintings (Casorati's "Girl on a Red Carpet"), but we thought he wouldn't stay still. We used another dog whose name is Pelu, but it wasn't a good idea because she moved too, and Bruno looked more like the dog in the painting.
AN: Thank you, Filu, for sharing with our Flapper Press readers. We look forward to seeing more of your art and writing in the future.
Annie Newcomer teaches poetry classes at the University of Kansas Medical Center's Turning Point—a place for hope and healing for people suffering with chronic health problems. Her North Stars series shares interviews with poets and writers and Annie's own experiences through writing.
Annie is also helms the Flapper Press Poetry Café—dedicated to celebrating poets from around the world and to encouraging everyone to write poetry!