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St. Mary's Mission School students build chess set

RED LAKE -- By combining a pair of fables and an art project, the students of St. Mary's Mission School have developed a new indoor sport -- Fox and Crow Chess.

RED LAKE -- By combining a pair of fables and an art project, the students of St. Mary's Mission School have developed a new indoor sport -- Fox and Crow Chess.

Guest artist Traudi Pawlowski, mother of St. Mary's art teacher Nicholas Pawlowski, started the project by telling the students two Aesop fables: "The Fox and the Crow" and "The Crow and the Pitcher."

In the first fable, a fox sees a crow perched in a tree and holding a piece of cheese in its beak. The hungry fox wants the cheese, so it flatters the crow, saying how beautiful and glossy its feathers are. The fox continues by wondering if the crow's singing voice is as beautiful as its appearance. The crow opens its beak to sing, lets out a raucous caw and drops the cheese, which the fox snaps up.

In the second fable, the thirsty crow comes upon a long-necked, narrow-topped pitcher of water. The water is too far down for the crow to reach, so the bird collects pebbles and drops them into the pitcher until the level of the water rises to the top.

The connection between the fables and the game of chess, Nicholas said, is that that chess is a game in which players have to be wise and clever. So, the students made a set of papier-m?ché orange fox-figure chess pieces and a set of black crow chessmen. The kings of both sets have crowns and are the tallest, followed by the queen fox and queen crow, bishops, knights, rooks and pawns. The chess "board" is a black sheet of cloth with orange painted blocks.

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"I want to thank you for the incredible hard work that you did," said Traudi. "We are combining art with something you can learn from."

Like life, she said, in chess the point is to make the right moves, but sometimes players make the wrong moves. Then they have to figure out what to do next to improve their situations.

For the inaugural game on Wednesday, fourth-grader Russell Kingbird II played the crow side of the board and fifth-grader Chase Mason played the fox pieces. The rest of the students sat in a circle around the players, offering suggestions for their next moves or warning of pieces in danger.

Traudi, who is from Austria, said community chess matches are a custom in that country, with two players moving the pieces and a group of onlookers offering suggestions.

"If you have a good idea, you can say, 'Chase, move that one' or 'Watch out for that one,'" said Nicholas.

"When you get the king, you say checkmate," said Noelle Zeller, a third-grade student who made a rook for the project. "Chase, you should move one of your pawns, the one in front that you didn't move yet. Block your king with your pawns."

"Take his queen with your castle," said Jon Mason, also a third-grader.

"You could move that pawn and get the knight -- no, not that pawn," said Nick Zeller, third-grader.

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Between calling out strategy, the spectators sat rapt and silent, except for an occasional cheer for a clever move.

Jon Mason, who made a fox pawn and is a chess player himself, said the whole project was fun. "I felt good when I was doing it," he said.

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