August 9th, 2021

How Two Artists are Reshaping a Midlands School Through Art

A Midlands elementary school will have a different look when students come back in the fall, and the students had a hand in reshaping it, thanks to the efforts of a pair of artists.

Amiri Farris, a Savannah-based artist, painted a mural 44 feet long and 11 feet wide on a wall of Nursery Road Elementary School when he became the school’s artist-in-residence. The position not only led him to do a piece of public art, but one that engaged young students with the idea of art.

When a teacher suggested the idea of the mural, Farris brought young students into the process to get ideas about what it should look like. Out of those conversations came elements like a computer to represent the STEM fields and musical instruments to represent the arts magnet program.

Lisa Brooks, the lead teacher of Nursery Road’s magnet arts program, reached out to Farris after she was inspired by similar paintings Farris did for the the Smithsonian American Art Museum.

The project was paid for by a grant from the Magnet School Assistance Program, which allows Nursery Road to bring in different artists for a “culture and arts day” at the end of each school year, Brooks said.

“I was looking for a mural artist, and (the Smithsonian pieces are) what drew me to him,” Brooks said. “We were fortunate to have an artist available to work with us, with the pandemic.”

Each student got to contribute to painting the mural during the final days of school in June, and Farris returned to finish up the mural in July.

“One said, ‘I’d get in trouble if I painted on a wall anywhere else,’” Farris remembers.

Farris wasn’t the only artist working with students at Nursery Road this year. Bob Doster of Lancaster helped fifth graders create a metal sculpture that now stands in front of the school. Each student, plus members of the school’s special education and adult programs, created a self-portrait figure on a 4-by-12-inch piece of paper, then used the silhouette to cut out a figure on a piece of metal by blow torch, with Doster guiding their hand.

Using his own tools, Doster set up the an outdoor area to cut the metal right outside Nursery Road’s breezeway.“It takes less time to cut it than it does to trace it on the paper,” Doster said. “The teachers and parents tell me it’s the only thing (the kids) talk about the rest of the day. … It’s something cool that they’ve never had a chance to do before.”Most students cut standing silhouettes of themselves into the metal, while others fit into the wheel with figures in wheelchairs holding balloons, or traced out their hands.“Our hearing-impaired students did the hand symbol for ‘I love you,’” Brooks said.Doster combined around 100 of the figures into a 4-foot tall metal wheel that was installed at the school this summer. Doster plans to come back to collect more fifth-grade silhouettes next year and add more wheels until the structure stands 12 feet tall.

The artist, who has been working with students in South Carolina schools for 45 years, said the structure allows students who are about to graduate from elementary school to leave behind a physical legacy they can point to when they revisit the campus years later.“I help them see there are other ways to do art than drawing and painting,” Doster said. “I’ve been doing this long enough now that I’ve had students who went into metal fabrication because of the opportunity they had to do this in elementary school.”

Source: The State