By Ben Tinsley
DALLAS — The artwork of past and present Ann and Nate Levine Academy students is gracing the hallways and classrooms of their school and is expected to remain in place through the first of the year.
The First Student Retrospective Through Art includes oil pastel paintings of “blazing banyan trees,” hand-painted ceramics, handmade stamps, foil drawings, three-dimensional leaf cards, Mimbres pottery coil pots, and much more.
This 2D and 3D art display is turning a few heads, school officials note.
“The scope of their work is unbelievable,” the school’s pre-K teachers touring the exhibit were quoted as saying on Facebook.
Wendy Cramer — the art teacher credited with being the primary creative force behind the exhibit — said it features the work of nearly 280 students from kindergarten through eighth grade.
Each student contributed three to four pieces of art to be evaluated for consideration, she said.
Tom Elieff, Levine Academy head of school, said the exhibit is extraordinary.
“This is an impressive, fantastic range of topics and subjects,” Elieff said. “There are a lot of pieces.”
Cramer said she happened upon the idea for the student display while on the job.
“I have been collecting this artwork,” Cramer explained. “I held on to some pieces I found that were left behind last year and it gave me the idea to do this retrospective.”
A committee made up of parents helped her select the best pieces of art from each student’s portfolio, she said.
“Each of them selected the very best work,” Cramer said. “It all got a unique reception.”
Mireille Brisebois-Allen, director of communications and projects, said students have been working on these art projects since school started.
She said hundreds of photos have been taken of the exhibit — with more probably to come. All photos are expected to contribute to an Internet exhibit display on the school’s website.
“We’ve also already posted some of the photos on Facebook,” Brisebois-Allen said.
Elieff said Wendy Cramer has succeeded in continuing art as a great tradition at the school during the eight or so years she has taught at Levine Academy.
“She does a fantastic job of teaching multiple perspectives with the kids,” Elieff said. “She teaches different media to employ in their artwork. She covers an impressive range of subjects and focus.”
(Cramer is also known on Facebook as the “art mastermind” behind the event.)
The talent displayed in the art retrospective was doubtlessly developed in the school’s well-supplied art lab, which Elieff and Cramer both pointed out allows the kids to express themselves and grow to their full artistic potential.
Independent, capable students
“It’s fantastic what they can do,” Elieff said. “It’s a comprehensive art program.”
Elieff said the art teacher has a fantastic way of establishing curriculum to create an impressive educational and creative lineup for students.
Cramer said those who brave the art lab are known to become very independent and capable.
“More than just artwork goes on in there,” Cramer said. “There’s a community in there that takes on the unfamiliar. They learn to work with new materials and tools, to get around obstacles and to not get frustrated. They learn to stick with it. This is a big part of how they get it done.”
Teachers encourage students viewing the art exhibit to use “Compliment Cards” to encourage one another.
This process involves writing a compliment on a piece of paper and leaving it for an artist.
Wendy Cramer said each younger child has an older mentor, or “buddy,” he or she meets with once a month.
It’s a fair arrangement. The younger students get to learn more about social graces from their buddies and the older students get to learn how to interact and mentor someone younger.
The older “buddy” encourages the younger student to leave a compliment for an artist. If the student chooses to do so, he or she can either sign the compliment or leave it anonymously.
Hierarchy of knowledge
Teachers try to prepare students to make that compliment by giving them the brain tools, Mireille Brisebois-Allen added.
But it’s the buddy who drives the point home by helping them understand why it is important.
“The buddies are trying to help the younger students evolve their commentary,” Brisebois-Allen said. “When the older buddy asks the younger one why he likes a piece of art and all the younger one can say is, ‘It’s pretty,’ the older one starts looking for another answer.”
A buddy will start asking the younger student more specific questions such as “Do you like the color?” Do you like the shape?” to help the younger student realize he needs to dig deeper for his answers, she said.
“It’s very interesting,” she said.
School officials gave thanks to the dedicated staff who helped make the art show a reality.
Wendy Cramer said in all, the student art exhibit was an incredibly positive experience.
“The kids have been thrilled and the parents are very excited from what I understand,” she said. “I can’t tell you how many compliments we got — how well it was displayed and how well it has been received.”