Students express selves through words, drawings, and their own hands

Student Olivia Brenner, left, and Isabella Blakely with their cast hand-art projects

Ivan Reynolds said he doesn’t claim to know the nature of humanity, “but I think about it a lot.”

The high school junior said he often expresses that thinking through his artwork, as in a piece he recently completed in Susan Langford’s studio art class. The assignment she gave to her 20 or so students was to convey a concept using a three-dimensional cast of their own hand, a drawing, and the written word.

Ivan chose peace. His project included a plaster cast of his hand, a pop-up drawing of another hand, and two sheets of paper in the center: one transparent with an olive branch drawn on the front, the other with a message written like a ransom note. The entire piece relies heavily on biblical allusion, metaphor and, as Ivan’s artist’s statement reads in part:

“I wanted to emphasize how art sacrifices even when it has nothing to give; art sacrifices to the viewer, to the creator and to the piece as a whole. … I wanted to capture the palpable feeling of desire in those who are seeking value in their lives. … The viewer can read the piece for the exact wording, but the ransom note format was an intentional metaphor to how hate can possess our lives, a ransom mitigated only by peace. For me, peace is achieved through art, serving and spirituality.”

Student Ivan Reynolds chose to focus on peace in his art project

Strong Symbolism

Langford has had her students do plaster casting before, and always requires writing as part of art projects, but this was the first time her students did the project in just this way. She said she was impressed by what they achieved.

“The symbolism was exceptional, and everybody’s work on this was really, really good,” she said.

Isabella Blakely’s piece included a cast of her hand grasping one that she had drawn, covered in vines.

“Thorns represent the little problems and setbacks that can pull you down,” Isabella said.

Lowell High School art teacher Susan Langford

Classmate Olivia Brenner aimed to convey her giving nature and her attachment to the people and things in her life. She illustrated this with a drawing of a hand holding flowers and a cast of her own cupped hand with real, stemmed flowers dangling between the outstretched fingers.

“I feel like I’m a very organized person, but I also have a lot of flaws,” Olivia explained. “Then there’s a conflict that I want to get out on my own but I’m still a homebody. I’m going to college, which I’m excited about but also a little afraid.”

Her piece, Olivia said, shows how “it can get confusing, but it’s all still very beautiful.”

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Morgan Jarema
Morgan Jarema is a Grand Rapids native and a product of Grand Rapids Public Schools, including Brookside and West Leonard elementaries, City Middle/High School and Ottawa Hills. She found her tribe in journalism in 1997 and has never wanted to do anything but write. For 15 years she was a freelance journalist for The Grand Rapids Press, covering local schools and government, religion, business, home & garden and lifestyles. She and her husband, John, think even those without kiddos should be invested in their local schools and made to feel a part of them. Read Morgan's full bio

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