St. Michael-Albertville Middle School West Students 'Keeping Art Real'

Students painted an art mural with a professional artist and their art teacher during exploratory day.


St. Michael-Albertville Middle School West art students worked on keeping art real at their school — both literally and figurately speaking.

The students painted a mural titled "Keeping Art Real," featuring a splattered paint background and the faces of artists from history such as Frida Kahlo, Jackson Pollock, and Salvador Dali.

"We didn't know how it was going to turn out," said fifth-grade student Olivia Peltz, adding that when she looks at the finished product, she thinks, "Wow, I actually made that!"

She and other fifth-grade and sixth-grade students worked on the mural during their school's Exploratory Day on Jan. 25, which is about learning from the community.

Minneapolis artist Jesse Golfis visited the classroom to coordinate the project with Middle School West art teacher April Erickson. Golfis is co-curator at the Abstracted Gallery in northeast Minneapolis, and a full-time painter.

"Community is very important to me," Golfis said about why he wanted to help with the mural. "If I can do something to impact my community, I'm going to do that."

Erickson and Golfis prepared the 48 x 92 canvas by first splattering the background with a few colors. Golfis drew the faces of the three figures on paper, took a photo of it, and uploaded it to a computer. The photo was then printed on a transparency and projected onto the canvas as the students painted, in a "paint by numbers" method. With all the lights off, the projected image shined brightly onto the mural.

"They did a great job replicating the drawings and trying to find the location of everything in the drawing," Erickson said. "Anatomy is really hard for fifth-and-sixth-graders to do."

Bryanna Rieber, 10, said filling in the outline of the faces was sometimes difficult, but teamwork helped make it a success.

"When we're working together we can make a nice project," Rieber said. "We have some interesting faces (on the mural)."

During Exploratory Day, students took half of the school day to learn from someone in the community within their classroom, or go out into the community to learn. Erickson chose the mural project for her class because she knew it would work well with students, especially with Golfis' painting style, she said.

"It's a great opportunity to bring more art into St. Michael-Albertville because we're all very far off from the city limits where art is more fluid," Erickson said. "Bringing an artist from the Cities allows them to see someone that lives art day to day, and that makes them see that art can be a career choice."

She says that it's "virtually impossible" to finish a mural in a regular class session, but it can be done on this special learning day that brings the community together.

The finished mural is displayed in the hallway at Middle School West. Peltz said she appreciated that the school gave her the opportunity to work on something she and her classmates are proud of.

"If I were at home, I wouldn't be able to have done that," Peltz said.

As the project came to an end, the classroom was full of smiles.

"We all worked together to make it look good," Rieber said with a laugh.


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