-By Cindy Focke
A steamroller recently pressed puzzle pieces together outside Salem High School to solidify a creative collaboration between art students and create a giant piece of art. The grand finale woodblock printing event was led by Steve Prince, director of engagement and artist in residence at the Muscarelle Museum of Art in Williamsburg.
“We are all connected,” he told the art students. “Artists leave records that will last forever.”
Prince was part of the Virginia Beach City Public Schools art teachers’ essential training this past summer at the Virginia Museum of Contemporary Art, and students had the opportunity to experience a unique art opportunity with him on Oct. 30. His daylong visit was made possible through the museum, the VBCPS Visual Fine Arts Program and the VBCPS Office of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion, which also assisted with funding.
Earlier that day, Prince spoke to art students from Salem and other high schools, including Tallwood, Cox, Ocean Lakes and Renaissance Academy. His message: “We use prints to challenge things that are going on in our community, and to speak out about injustices.”
He shared his New Orleans roots, his educational journey from art teacher to artist and his innovative printmaking projects, including his Links Project several years ago. He used an industrial steamroller to produce art symbolic of the links between slavery and today to commemorate the 400th anniversary of the first enslaved African people brought to Jamestown.
Salem’s Visual and Performing Arts Academy Coordinator Amy Schuiteboer described Prince’s lecture as “incredible and so powerful.” “He has taken his African American culture and heritage and is making art that depicts the struggles and victories that happen throughout history.” His message of how to “take the lead and make change,” was heard loud and clear, she said.
VBCPS Visual Fine Arts Coordinator Amber Hester said the day’s experience exposed students to a unique opportunity. Prince captured their attention and made them think about ways to make a difference in the world.
“Kids sometimes forget they have that power,” Hester said.
Approximately 70 students were tasked with choosing someone significant in their lives to draw on paper and then transfer to wooden puzzle pieces that would later be displayed in an art classroom at Salem.
Isabella Tillson said Prince was inspiring.
“He pushed people to do new things,” she said.
The Salem High senior chose to honor her grandmother on her puzzle piece. “She’s always tried to see the best in everyone,” she said.
Salem High junior Kaelan Welch chose actress Melissa McCarthy.
“She’s a woman and not too many women are comedians,” said Kaelan, who admires that McCarthy “doesn’t care what people think about her.”
There were Albert Einstein, Barak Obama, John Lennon and others. Emma Win from Cox High School depicted a Japanese vocal software character Hatsune Miku. “I’ve loved her all my life,” she said. “She has such charms and I love her songs.”
Salem Visual and Performing Arts Academy senior Jackie Cruz said projects like this have furthered her interest in pursuing art as a career. She selected her mother on her puzzle piece because “she inspires me to work hard and follow my dreams.” Camryn Rodgers of Ocean Lakes said the entire project shows how working together can accomplish something powerful.
Power and handheld tools were used to cut out engravings of the pictures on the wood. Before students headed outside to connect the pieces, Prince asked them to repeat the words, “I am! I can! I will!” After about an hour of working together, the puzzle was complete. The group applauded, and proceeded to glue the pieces to a board, and roll three coats of black oil paint across the top.
The 4-by-8-foot wooden puzzle was placed on the ground and topped with paper, blankets and a board before Prince gave the steamroller the green light to roll over the project.
Finally, the paper was peeled off the puzzle to reveal connected imprints of people who impacted the students.
“Another masterpiece here!” exclaimed Prince. He reminded students that art comes from “things that have moved and inspired you.”
“Our power is in our stories,” he said.