Compassion Project


Cultivating Care and Compassion in our Schools

through Storytelling, Art, and Poetry


Through her art of painting on eggshells, miniaturist Cathee vanRossem-St.Clair teaches children about caring for the world.        -Sandra Reeves

(Adapted in part from an article in PERSPECTIVES May/June 2000)

Fragility is a concept artist Cathee vanRossem-St. Clair works with every day: the fragility of her medium—she paints on eggs—and, by extrapolation, the fragility of every natural thing on earth, including people. The idea Cathee pairs with fragility is caring: when something is fragile, it needs to be taken care of. In her three-week egg painting workshops for North Tahoe area elementary students, these ideas are made concrete. Coached by Cathee, fourth graders produce individually designed and painted eggs and write-from-the-heart poems about them, including in each a message to the world.

The idea for the Egg Painting Compassion Workshop came about in 1987, when Terry Yagura, founder of Arts For The Schools, saw Cathee’s work in a local gallery and asked her to create a week-long workshop for children. Cathee agreed. The first workshop was so well received that Cathee expanded the program to three weeks, adding drawing lessons, storytelling, and poetry writing to the lesson plans.

In a 2000 interview with Sandra Reeves, Terry Yagura marveled at Cathee’s success in the classroom. “It’s not easy painting a story on a curving surface in all directions; children have to use fine motor skills,” she said. “But they give 100 percent. Cathee draws them out in her wonderful way. They have to be quiet and focused, and they are. You can hear a pin drop in her classrooms.”

“When we started,” said Terry Yagura, “it was about painting on eggs. Now it’s about learning about endangered species, natural history, language arts, caring, the children’s messages to the world. It has evolved into a huge thing, all out of this delicate egg.” In 1992 Cathee was awarded her first grant from the California Arts Council, which supported her program continuously until the Artist-In-Residence Program at the CAC was eliminated in 2003. During those years, Cathee mounted three professional exhibitions of the children’s work: the first at Pogan Gallery in Tahoe City, the second at the Nevada Museum of Art in Reno, and the third at the North Tahoe Art Center in Tahoe City. In each exhibit, the children’s colorful eggs were showcased in glass-topped pedestal cases in well-lighted rooms surrounded by large black and white portraits of the students painting and writing. A video played in a continuous loop, featuring the workshop in progress and the students talking about their work. Each reception was attended by hundreds of people. “The shows came from Cathee’s vision,” said Terry. “I can’t tell you how much work it was, but they came together as she wanted—as very important shows and receptions honoring children.” In 1999, Cathee was awarded an honorary Paul Harris Fellowship Award for her work with children.

The Egg Painting Compassion Workshop is a holistic exploration of the world of fragility and caring, using eggshells as canvases for personal stories and insightful poetry. This intensive course addresses many of the Common Core Standards as well as guidelines outlined in the Visual and Performing Arts Framework for California public schools. It is designed so that students can improve their capacity to create and appreciate art over time, with the enhancement of foundational skills needed at the later grades. It is a project-based course founded on the principles of sequential learning. Character development is at the heart of the Egg Painting Compassion Workshop. Students learn patience and the importance of focused attention during each two-hour session. Each lesson segues into the next, integrating science, storytelling, drawing, painting, poetry, and public speaking.

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