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Art comes full circle

CCHS art teacher Bailey Fry-Schnormeier invites a teacher from her past to work with art students this week

Pam Dennis works with CCHS art students Mathilde Risager and Brooklyn Bolinger to create wire and papier-mâché pieces for a collaborative mural, which will be displayed near the high school office.
Pam Dennis works with CCHS art students Mathilde Risager and Brooklyn Bolinger to create wire and papier-mâché pieces for a collaborative mural, which will be displayed near the high school office.

When Bailey Fry-Schnormeier, art teacher at Creston Community High School, was 12-years-old, her mother Sue Basler, who was an art teacher in Clearfield at the time, took her out of school for a day to be Pam Dennis’ assistant when Dennis came to share her art with Basler’s students.

This week, Dennis, with partner Ryk Weiss, is sharing her art with Fry-Schnormeier’s students at Creston Community High School and Basler is the assistant.

Dennis’ art has stayed with Fry-Schnormeier through the years. She was able to take graduate-level art classes on Dennis’ farm through Drake University and has taken several continuing education classes with her.

When Fry-Schnormeier’s art program received a grant this year, she said she knew exactly what she wanted to do with it. Using the fine arts grant required a project the students could participate in — an experience for the students, not just a piece of equipment.

Fry-Schnormeier brought in Dennis and Weiss as artists in residence to work with the students for several days over two visits to create a multi-media mural.

Inexpensive materials

Dennis and Weiss have been working with willow for 35 years. Dennis said she started to use the material because it was available on their farm. Approximately 15 years ago, Dennis created a willow-based project with CCHS students which is still housed in the school library.

Dennis said she has worked with students of all ages often in schools with limited funding for art. This led her to finding inexpensive materials to create art out of. The backing for the current mural is a cattle panel spray-painted black. Weiss said it would be much more expensive in an art store.

“You’d pay a couple hundred dollars for something like this in [an art store],” said Weiss.

Dennis and Weiss have added curved branches of willow to the panel to form the basis of the project. Many different materials will be used to create a unique landscape design. Dennis described this process as using the varied components like paint.

Dennis and Weiss are using metal and plastic hardware cloth as pieces of this installation. The students are painting the metal pieces that have dipped in a papier-mâché-like mix. According to a student, Jordan Peckham, there is no set pattern to painting the pieces; they are simply using warm, leafy colors.

Other students have made “God’s eyes” by wrapping pieces of willow with yarn. Strips of colored cloth have been woven into the plastic hardware cloth to help create the river in the piece.

On their previous visit to CCHS in March, Dennis and Weiss helped the students make clay leaves and fish which were textured, coated in a wash and fired in the kiln. Dennis describes the ceramic pieces as buttons with two holes are in each one, so that they can be easily wired onto the frame.

Weiss said he appreciates how the very different types of materials come together to make something.

“It’s not the beauty of the individual components, it’s when you put them together, “ said Weiss.

Dennis said she enjoys collaborating with students. She said when she has made murals in the past — where she created all of the elements herself — the pieces all feel the same. With so many students working on the project, there is more variation.

“When you do it all yourself, it looks good, but all the same,” she said.

Conovers grant

Fry-Schnormeier said that the grant received from the Conovers covers this project and is also allowing students to paint a mural on the Supreme Cleaners Building at the corner of Division and Montgomery streets.

She said she is especially excited that this ia an annual grant and has applied for an Iowa Art Council Grant to add to it for the purchase of a Raku kiln for students to use next year.

The other arts divisions at CCHS received money from the Conover Grant as well. Band director Michael Peters commissioned a piece of music dedicated to his 25th year at CCHS composed by Dr. Thomas Bough.

Vocal director Jane Warner purchased new stoles for the choir. Speech and drama coach Laura Granger used the grant to take 24 speech and drama students to see Aladdin at the Des Moines Civic Center in the fall.

Individual speech coach Danielle Dickenson used the grant to pay entry fees for students to hone their skills at the Walnut Hil Speech Tournament before competing at state speech the following week. p.p1 {margin: 0.0px 0.0px 0.0px 0.0px; font: 12.0px 'Times New Roman'}

The completed mural will be displayed outside the high school office.

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