Rebeca Raney & Ray's Beret - Artful Animal
I met Rebeca Raney at a RISD (Rhode Island School of Design) student sale. Rebeca, then an undergrad, was making the cutest, funniest handmade bags I had ever seen, each embroidered with some kind of puffy face - the same face, or a precursor to the face that populates her work to this day. I bought one of Rebeca’s bags that day and loved it so much I carried it/wore it till it fell apart and had dirty rings around the opening.
Although she has been working as an artist educator for some time, I hadn’t really seen what that meant till the pandemic hit and Rebeca started posting as Ray’s Beret on IG. Ray’s Beret, named after Rebeca’s daughter, was to be a kids’ art and crafts festival that had to be postponed this summer. Instead, for now at least, the Ray’s Beret IG page has been posting spontaneous and colorful projects, inspirations, and great ideas. Even though the intended audience is kids and their parents to help facilitate, I’ve often found myself saving this and that project posted by Rebeca to do later myself this winter.
Q - I know the Ray’s Beret festival was supposed to be held in person but I’m really digging everything you are sharing online. I can see how you are folding creativity and “making” into your/Ray’s daily life and not making art some separate entity that is put in a neat white rectangle and done at a certain time or as a “subject”. That really comes through in your posts. I’m sure you were already doing that at home but perhaps would not have been a point outwardly seen during an in-person event within a limited amount of time. I see that as an unintended plus. Has there been anything positive that has surprised you amidst this pandemic or that has come out of this situation for you, Ray, or Ithai?
A: The biggest positive for our family is that we have all remained healthy during this time. This is something that we mostly took for granted before. There are so many little frayed silver linings that we have experienced during this time in our lives. I have been an art teacher for many years and for all ages, so I had many supplies both from teaching and my own studio practice. Sharing projects with Ray and doing my own projects to share over social media has been a lovely reminder of all kinds of tricks, art experiments, and general creative play that I had been keeping in my mind. One thing that I haven't adequately shared is how I used this time to teach my daughter how to care for her possessions, our shared art materials, and the projects she made. Especially when we weren't leaving the house it was so important for us to maintain a peaceful environment and put things away with thoughtfulness and intention. I also appreciate the silver lining of having too much quality time. I know I will look back on this time and remember it with some fondness once school and my own work schedule starts up again.
Q - Can you elaborate a little bit about what you meant when you said you've been teaching Ray how to care for her possessions?
A - A lot of children, mine included, are natural collectors. We have special twigs, rocks, acorns, tiny toys, bits of paper, legos, and other assorted treasures. Ray always knew how to gather these and squirrel them away. We have dedicated time to creating a flow of keeping the best and donating and recycling what we don't need. It's aspirational but I like to think that I am teaching her to have an open palm versus a closed fist. Because she doesn't have a sibling the best way she has to practice sharing is through donation and gifting. We don't acquire new things without making space for them (more donating). I also have tried to set limits on the kinds of toys we have. This is a little bit of an aside but I love the Brooklyn Public Library and it was always so fun to be able to borrow a seemingly unlimited amount of books. This is the only time where Ray was allowed to really go for it in terms of excess, and it taught us so much about being good custodians and lovingly returning the books. Library books and the care of books, in general, taught us how to care for everything we own. Don't throw them. Don't dogear the corners; use a bookmark. Don't leave your book open and face down because it stresses the spine. Never draw or write in a library book. So when it came to Ray's toys and possessions I have shown her how to fold the doll's clothes. I have taught her how to glue and mend. I have shown her how to polish a little silver figurine using toothpaste and a cloth. The mantra is that these are your things and you have to care for them while they are in your orbit. I make lots of games out of cleaning, fixing, and putting away. I don't make it a chore or a punishment. It's just an extension of how we play with our treasures and toys. My final remark about this is that a timer can be helpful in proving that putting a room back together after some epic playing and fort building doesn't take nearly as long as one might suspect.
Q - What are some of your favorite projects that you’ve posted about? One of mine is the one about drawing on bananas with something pointy like a toothpick and letting the lines reveal themselves. Magic!
A: I used to leave banana drawings for my roommates in college! I think a post that I really liked which was totally silly was the Snappy Cappy Froggy where I added felt and googly eyes to a plastic bottle cap. I have been looking at these for years wondering what they could be other than recyclable. I think every project is my favorite when I'm working on it. It is weird to put the projects out there and wait for the likes to come rolling in. Because Ray's Beret isn't yet a business it can feel strange trying to do new projects, document, and share them. I am always grateful when someone writes me a nice note saying something they saw is neat. Oh! I made a paper mache bat out of an egg carton and someone sent me the versions they had made with their child and that made me feel over the moon.
Q - Can you tell me about some of the jobs/positions you’ve had over the years that made you the educator that you’ve become so far? Did this path sort of just happen naturally or was it something that you knew you wanted to pursue?
A: I had an incredible art teacher mentor when I was in high school named Astrid Dalins and I worked with her at The Bass Museum of Art summer camps during that period. At RISD, I was a TA for some pre-college classes and I worked at the Hasbro Children's Hospital creating murals for kids in Pediatric Intensive Care. I had a wonderfully long career working with The Joan Mitchell Foundation before they cruelly stopped their entire arts education programming. For the last several years, I was running a teen arts program for Frieze NY. I naturally was drawn to this kind of work because I love the art that young people make. I also love how teaching art is so deeply personal and subjective. I might have a way of doing something and my student might completely disagree with my method or refuse my suggestions. They will find their way to make their work in their way and if I am a good teacher I am doing as much listening as I am speaking and we can learn from each other.
Q - What is one of the things you want to enjoy “when this is all over”? (I mean COVID stuff)
A: I want to be able to visit my family overseas. I will probably wear a mask on a plane from now on. But I definitely want to see my far-away loved ones.