Spreading Awareness and Appreciation

June 1, 2022

Teacher of Art Sarah Mango talks with students at the art exhibit of their prints in the Cummings Room.
Teacher of Art Sarah Mango talks with students at the exhibit of their prints in the Cummings Room.

On June 1, the Cummings Room served as a pop-up art gallery for dozens of Middle School student-produced prints. The pieces were a visual reflection of what matters to each artist, and at the end of the short-term exhibition, the 7th-graders delivered a print of their work to someone at Wheeler who has made a difference in their lives. As Teacher of Art Sarah Mango shares, it was a project two years in the making:

When I look at this body of artwork, it takes me physically back to teaching art at Wheeler Farm last year with the class of 2027. Because of the pandemic, it was a time when students did not have a traditional art classroom, and we all made it work so we could be together virtually or in person to learn, grow, and create. The weather dictated where we could have art: the soccer field with camp chairs, the tables near the tennis courts, the Wheeler woods, and even the gym floor! The 6th-graders learned to be flexible, developed a ton of grit, and rolled with it. Whether it was drawing and collaging outside in all types of weather or creating these prints without a sink, they persevered and never complained. We will always be connected because we were charting new territory and creating spaces to be able to take new risks.

This was also around the time when the news broke about what happened to George Floyd. I personally didn’t know how to make sense of it all. I was outraged, sad, angry, confused, and disturbed. After taking some time to process the news, I wanted to incorporate the “Black Lives Matter” messaging into a personal art project in an effort to create additional awareness and add meaning to my own work. I began to look around my house to see what materials I had to create. I found some Styrofoam trays, printing ink, old newspapers, and long forgotten prints I made many years ago that never made it to a frame. My kitchen counter quickly turned into a makeshift print studio, and while they were drying on my kitchen table and floor, I started photographing them and I emailed the images to friends and family members. Local friends asked for a print to hang in the window of their home, and an idea was born.

Students in the process of developing their print ideas.

During the Middle School’s Unity & Diversity Week in 2021, I thought it would be an appropriate time to revisit the project and ask students to consider what is important to them. We started by taking a closer look at the contemporary artist Titus Kaphar who describes his work as “wrestling with the past while speaking to the diversity of the present.” Through listening to a TED Talk and a recent CBS Sunday Morning story about him, students were able to hear Kaphar talk about his life’s journey and hear why he makes art. The students then had the opportunity to share written reflections. They said things like:

  • It takes a while to find your passion.
  • I am more aware of racism and equality.
  • Art can make amends.
  • One of the biggest mistakes we make is assuming that other people think the way we think.
  • I was moved because I became more aware of our past and how we have not focused on Black Americans in art and how I now feel better because contemporary artists, like Titus, are focusing on Black Americans and our country’s history and this is very important. He is making a difference.
  • You have to try new things.

We then took time for the students to think about what matters to them, and I challenged them to make a piece of art that sparked awareness or resonated with them personally. You can see images of some of their work in progress above and below, and the prints they created appear at the end of this story (I would also like to thank the Wheeler School Parents Association for providing the funds to purchase the frames!).

A composite image of students working on their prints. On the left is a student rolling paint onto their canvas, and on the right are three students working together.
Students working on their prints.

The next question I posed to the students was: “Who on the Wheeler faculty or staff has made a difference in your life? Who on the city campus or farm campus do you value and has made such a difference that you would like to give them one of your prints?

A year has passed since then, and looking at the students’ prints now, I am moved on a completely different level. The 6th-graders are now 7th-graders. They’ve changed, they’ve grown, and yet the same issues this project was born from still remain. All of these prints will serve as voices of the Class of 2027. We hope they will create awareness and have a presence on our campus for current and future students, faculty, and staff. They are art prints to get your attention, to make you think, to create conversation, and hopefully spark positive change.

And we’re so happy for the students to give them as a gift to important people in their school lives.

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