Two years ago, a participant in one of my workshops asked me if I would consider teaching a two-day enamel workshop with her students. I was given an invitation by Principal Roger Salisbury and Karla Hoying, Art Specialist at the Marsh Foundation, an institution that offers a nurturing and exceptional educational experience to unique individuals. A date was planned; two days in February 2005.

This workshop was unlike anything I had taught. It was quite challenging, intensely energetic, but equally rewarding. I have had few students as a group who have reacted with such enthusiasm and interest.

Last year, I was again invited to teach a related material enamel workshop. I have seen few teaching environments where an activity as enamel has impacted a group of students as at the Marsh Foundation. Karla Hoying and the Marsh Foundation administration’s support have made this possible. Enameling goes beyond craft; it is therapy.

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marsh foundation
Tom Ellis and workshop participants at The Marsh Foundation.


In it’s construction in the early 1920s, The Marsh Foundation has had as it’s mission to provide a continuing benefit to mankind by helping needy children. Following the last will and testament of George H. Marsh, The Marsh Foundation was first developed as an orphanage to serve Van Wert and surrounding counties in Ohio. “The Marsh” became the home to hundreds of children with no families or families who for one reason or another were unable to care for them. Times have a way of changing, and The Marsh Foundation has moved when necessary with the times. The Marsh Foundation has been governed by a three-person Board of Trustees. They were appointed first by George Marsh, thereafter by the Federal Appellate Court out of Lima. Each Trustee is a respected member of the Van Wert community, and receives their appointment for life. Our current Board consists of mr. Paul W. (Wally) Purmort, Mr. Donald Sutton, and Mr. Gerald Thatcher.

There were changes in the type of children placed here at The Marsh beginning in the 1980s that paralleled the nationwide change in the orphanage system. Fewer true orphans were needing placement because the extended family has stepped in to help. More and more often those children being placed here and elsewhere were in need of behavioral interventions. They were truants, runaways, troublemakers; many were victims of abuse and neglect. The Marsh Foundation as it was could not be prepared to deal with your behavioral problems on a full time basis. These radical changes in client needs and some overdue but drastic revisions of State and Federal childcare regulations and laws forced the Trustees to look for a program designed to help children and their families with severe behavioral difficulties while meeting the new rules.

After a long search and much research, they settled on the Teaching-Family Model of Care. The Teaching-Family Model assured the Trustees that they could expect a continuation of the high expectations for quality, humane treatment for the children of Northwest Ohio. The actual implementation of The Teaching-Family program began in 1990 and continues to this day.

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The Teaching-Family Program is a systems-based approach to behavioral intervention for children that incorporates intensive initial training, consistent support, supervision, and ongoing training of the direct care staff. The Teaching-Family Model also includes an evaluation component responsible for reviewing all aspects of the direct care program for quality, effectiveness, and consumer satisfaction. To further insure quality, there is an annual review of the overall agencies systems and personnel qualifications using a peer reviewer network set up through national Teaching Family Association Office.

Students at the Marsh Foundation work on enamel projects during Tom Ellis’ workshop

The Enameling Program Within the Art Curriculum – An Uplifting Activity

Karla Hoying has brought energy and insight to the art department at the Marsh Foundation since it’s inception. In her words, “I started this art program 18 years ago. Marsh Foundation had no official art program or art room before I came, so it was quite a challenge to start this program, and even more challenging to make the art program tailored to fit our special needs students. The program, however, has evolved into a very important part of the growth and development of our students experience here. As the art specialist, I try to use art not only as an academic class to teach about art, but also use projects that will help our students build self-esteem, and personal identity. I have grown as an instructor along with the students as I have watched the students work out their sadness and frustrations into beautiful and meaningful pieces of art. In discussions with other professional teachers in public schools, they often ask me how I can work with the students that are usually kicked out of their normal classrooms, and achieve such great results and progress with them in my class. I have found that the more emotional conflicts that students are going through, the greater their passion comes out in their art. My job is to find the projects that will enable each students’ personal passion to come to the surface. I provide the vehicle and materials for them to be able to express themselves, and they go the distance with it. It is very rewarding as their instructor to see the art program use art that works with my students in such a healing way, and play such a positive part in their own self growth.

“One project that the students are involved in is this wonderful art medium [enameling]. I have enjoyed teaching this medium for the past 8 years. I was first taught enameling by Ms. Rebecca Laskin at Touchstone Studios, and later at Arrowmont School of Arts and Crafts. Since then, I have taken many classes and have passed that information down to my students. Each year in my art program, I have an enamel workshop that lasts 2-3 days. Students are in art all day during that time, with an intense experience in enameling. Prior to this workshop, they learn the history and techniques of enameling. They also learn all of the hazards and safety rules regarding the handling of glass and working in the kiln. I often have working artists come in and teach their favorite techniques. For the last two years, the students have enjoyed learning from Mr. Ellis.

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“Enameling gives my students a way to express themselves through design, color and techniques. It also helps them to learn problem-solving, patience, and to explore a new medium that most of them knew nothing about. It is fast paced, exciting, and helps them to build self-esteem quicker than many art mediums. I know that as they are learning about this fascinating medium, they are also learning more about themselves and what they can achieve if they are brave enough to take the first steps into something new. After all, isn’t that what life and art is all about?”

Students at the Marsh Foundation work on enamel projects during Tom Ellis’ workshop

The Marsh Foundation website is located at