When students at two area schools head off for summer vacation this month, they will leave behind artworks that could remain long enough for their own children to admire them.
“It’s so cool to be able to leave a mark this permanent,” said Cumberland Regional High School senior Zoe Hoffman, of Deerfield Township, at the unveiling Wednesday of a series of stained glass panels created by students and hung at the entrance of the school’s Performing Arts Center in rural Upper Deerfield Township.
A 24-foot-long 3-D mosaic mural in the lobby of the Atlantic County Special Services School in Mays Landing, also created by students, will be unveiled Tuesday.
Both are the result of Artist in Residence programs sponsored through the N.J. State Council on the Arts to connect the state’s history, culture, artists and schools in a way that could have a lasting effects on young people. The districts agree to share in the cost of the projects and make the time commitment to completing them.
Iveta Pirgova, director of Education and Cultural Studies at the Wheaton Arts and Cultural Center in Millville, said she asked Cumberland Regional because the school has a well-supported art department.
Wheaton Arts is one of five folk art centers in the state sharing $50,000 in grants from the National Endowment for the Arts and the State Council on the Arts to do folk art projects in schools. The center at Tuckerton Seaport sponsored a basket-making project this year with students in Eagleswood and Beach Haven.
Cumberland Regional Supervisor of Curriculum Greg McGraw said the school had formed an advisory committee in 2011 to align their art program with university standards. They welcomed the project as an opportunity to create something that would be permanent in the school, and reflect the history of Cumberland County.
“We wanted it to tell stories,” he said.
Architectural stained glass artist J. Kenneth Leap, whose work is in the Statehouse Annex in Trenton and Boardwalk Hall in Atlantic City, became their Artist in Residence, reflecting both the history of glass manufacturing in the county and the ancient art of glass painting.
Students interviewed family members, researched county history and culture, and came up with several drawings of their ideas that Leap helped transform into a mural. Themes and landmarks chosen include the Palace of Depression and Delsea Drive-In Theatre, East Point Lighthouse, Gibbon House, New Sweden, the Parvin State Park house, Cohanzick Zoo in Bridgeton, the restored oyster schooner A.J. Meerwald, the Bethel AME Church, the Japanese Obon Festival and a peach farm. The blue Cohansey River runs through all the panels, adding a slash of color.
“That was one of the great ideas to tie it all together,” Leap said of the river.
The 25 participating students spent about 1,200 hours since February learning the technique of painting on glass, researching their themes, then merging it all together.
“It was such a layered experience for them,” art teacher Darlene Gates said.
Daniel Carter, a member of the Lenni Lenape Indian tribe, made his mom and the tribe proud when he suggested using a likeness of tribal chief Mark Gould for a panel that also includes the clan’s logo of a turtle with bow and arrow.
“I am much thinner in that picture,” said Gould, who attended the unveiling. “And I am very proud to be included.”
Leap said he is very impressed with the quality of the work, especially since the students were learning as they worked. He said painting on glass is a process of both adding and subtracting to get the proper shading.
Breonna Thomas, of Deerfield Township, admitted it took her three tries to complete the schooner A.J. Meerwald.
“Shading was the hard part,” she said. “If you take away too much, it’s over and you have to start again.”
McGraw praised the three school art teachers, Gates, Betsy Tasker, Jennifer Wiley and technology coordinator Ed Sayre for the extra time they put in making sure the project got done on time.
The teachers were clearly thrilled with the results and the impact it had on students.
“This is truly a part of them and Cumberland County,” Tasker said.
The nine colorful 3-D panels that make up the Atlantic County Special Services “Seeds of Success” mural dominated in art teacher Sarah Friedley’s art room Thursday as they awaited installation in the main hallway. Friedley estimated at least 350 of the 450 students at the school participated in the project, either by making individual tiles, or helping paint, glue or papier-mache the giant three-dimensional plant, sun and butterfly around which the tiles are glued.
Friedley said the school matched the state’s $6,000 Art Horizons grant, and she spent hours filling out paperwork and interviewing artists to find one who could work well with the disabled students at the school and understand both their limits and unique talents.
“They can be nonverbal, and very shy,” Friedley said. “And they can’t always tell you what they’re thinking, but they can show you. A hands-on project gives them another way to express themselves.”
Sculptor Marilyn Keating, of Gloucester City, said she’s sort of shy and nonverbal herself. Both Fielding and art teacher Lisa Confora told a story about the day Keating first came in, and when she left the room, students followed her.
“They really flock to her,” Friedley she said. Keating’s idea was also cost-effective and something students of different abilities and ages could accomplish. Students made small tiles of any object they liked, which were then glued onto the panels.
“There were days when they were just covered in glue,” Friedley said.
Angelo Delgado, 11, made a small tribal mask, and also helped with painting. Lexi Clarke, 11, helped create the texture on the butterfly’s wings. John Peabody, 10, made a hot-air balloon tile and helped paint the butterfly wings.
Student from the high school wing handled major jobs, such as assembling and finishing the mural. Daniel Post, 19, was the quality control expert, and Anna Olita, 19, did the glazing, sometimes with her mom. Confora said the parents came into help, and enjoyed doing something with their child that was not focused only on care giving.
“We set up stations and everyone did what they were most comfortable doing,” Confora said. “It really has been a great year.”
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