A little research was required for gifted visual arts students to prepare the final assignment in their program at Virginia Beach Middle School (VBMS).
Carolina Valverde learned that her Spanish II teacher Absalom O’Neil grew up in New York just outside Albany and likes lacrosse and the color orange. She also learned he enjoys coaching his son’s soccer team, loves his family (including his three cats and a shih tzu) and is a fan of the arts.
What she already knew about O’Neill is that he has been an inspiration to her.
“He truly believes in me as a student. That means more to me than can be described,” wrote Valverde. “He always has faith in me, and pushes me to do more than I think I’m capable of. He helps me be the best that I can be.”
Nathan Lania found out his seventh-grade math teacher Austin Mehl loves everything about his hometown of Chicago – the history, the food, the sports teams and more. Lania also noted Mehl’s passion for activities such as skateboarding, skiing, snowboarding and wakeboarding.
“Mr. Mehl was the best teacher in the world to me, and I will never forget him. He was more than a cool math teacher – he was a friend of mine. I wanted to give him this piece to show how appreciative I am for all he has done for me and taught me,” wrote Lania.
The artwork Lania presented to Mehl was Lania’s last creation in the Gifted Visual Arts program.
That’s by design, according to VBMS art teacher Leah Kreuger, who explained the culminating nature of the eighth-grade project.
“The Teacher-Inspired Artwork project is completed during our ‘Innovation’ unit, and the students have to come up with their own plan for the project. They decide on the media and techniques based on what they have learned during their time in the Visual Arts Program,” Kreuger said.
Teacher interviews were an initial step of the creative process once students had selected a VBMS staff member to feature. Their visual arts teachers also encouraged students to reflect on the following questions to guide their work: Why have you chosen this person in particular? What makes them special to you? What have they taught you and what have you learned? What items or things can be associated with the person? What could this piece of artwork look like?
In addition to creating two-dimensional art, students had to write an artist statement explaining how their selected teachers inspired them and what their artwork represents.
The final masterpieces and written statements show the positive impact teachers can have on their students.
“Without the comfort Ms. Drake has given me in the classroom, creating art would never have been the same for me,” wrote Trinity Gallagher. “I have learned from Ms. Drake that even though we make mistakes in life, embracing them without an eraser can create a masterpiece in the end.”
Gallagher titled her watercolor artwork “My Muse” and gave it the appearance of pop art because she knows her art teacher Leigh Drake is a fan of Andy Warhol’s work. “It was a pleasure to paint,” reflected Gallagher.
“As a thanks for my absolute favorite teacher, I created a piece based on Mrs. Dobbs,” wrote Hayes. “My idea for this project was to capture the idea of how she feels about teaching. What she told me was inspiring and motivating.”
Hayes explained her depiction. “[It] was intended to look more like a figure of light that would represent how ribbons of light traveled through and from Mrs. Dobbs. The movement of the ribbons was to give you a feeling of giving out love and happiness as if you could almost imagine the light hugging you. I used warm colors to represent how Mrs. Dobbs makes me feel happy and that I glow with warmth whenever I’m around her. Her happiness, her excitement give me life. Everything about her just motivates me to keep on going!”
“Mr. Baroz is not only a great teacher, but a great person. When I had him as a teacher, he would always inspire in and out of the classroom. I trusted Mr. Baroz, and he stands out amongst all of my teachers,” said Schmeiser.
Alexis Jones quoted Ernest Hemingway in her artwork for eighth-grade English teacher Emily Marler, painting the words “courage is grace under pressure.”
“In just one school year she has made a bigger impact on my life than I ever expected,” wrote Jones of Marler in her artist statement. “She spoke to us like she had all of the faith in the world in us. She shows us the morals from our books in class and how we sometimes go through the same struggle as these characters. I wanted to show her that there is beauty in everything just as she showed me.”
“I decided to try to incorporate a little bit of everything he told me about himself,” she wrote. “I knew New York was a big part of him and helped shape him into the person he is today, so I wanted to incorporate that. I chose to put a city skyline outside a big window. I put two quotes on posters on the walls in the room, one about language and one about teaching. These quotes represent his love for words and their power. I tried to incorporate fun colors and patterns to represent his fun and colorful personality as well.”
At the beginning of the next school year, O’Neil and other teachers featured in the Teacher-Inspired Artwork project will get to keep the pieces dedicated to them. The artwork stays on display at VBMS throughout the summer as a memento of the visual arts students’ appreciation for their teachers and their time at the school.
Valverde sounds certain that O’Neil will continue to make a difference in the lives of students long after she’s made the transition to high school.
“I know that Mr. O’Neil will keep on teaching and inspiring more students in future years, so this artwork is my thank you” she wrote. “Mr. O’Neil, it is my hope you won’t forget me, but I know I will never forget you.”