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Art on the fly: Ford Airport travelers see students’ self-expression on display

ArtPrize is a proud sponsor of School News Network. Our sponsors support stories in our classrooms and communities, involving students and educators who lead, inspire, and learn together.
ArtPrize is a proud sponsor of School News Network. Our sponsors support stories in our classrooms and communities, involving students and educators who lead, inspire, and learn together.

Two ArtPrize entries being displayed at the Gerald R. Ford International Airport feature Forest Hills Public Schools students. Here, read the stories behind the artwork, on display through Oct. 7.

VOTE #68808 “Matthew’s View”

When Matthew Howing greets those who have come to the second floor observation deck to see the work created by him and his dad, he makes eye contact, gives a firm handshake and introduces himself — sometimes in multiple languages.

He is displaying social skills that have surfaced most visibly since his art was featured in the district’s spring art show at the Fine Arts Center, said Christopher Thomas, Matthew’s teacher in Eastern High’s autism spectrum disorder classroom.

Eastern High senior Matthew Howing calls his ArtPrize entry ‘a brand-new shape of great art’

“A few years ago, he would have just grumbled,” Thomas said. “Now, his ability to open and close a conversation has been incredible.”

“Konnichiwa,” Matthew says, offering the Japanese greeting with a bow. “Welcome to a brand-new shape of great art.”

His father, Thomas Howing, shakes his head and smiles. “Talk about coming out of your shell. He’s coming out of his ocean. If this keeps up we’re going to have to get him an agent.”

The father-son piece, an over 7-foot architectural acrylic stand built by Thomas Howing, is covered with his son’s school artwork: drawings in marker that include “polka dots, dominoes, big music notes, a shape like a church and Scottish, British and Switzerland colors,” Matthew said.

According to the artist statement, Matthew’s “pencils, pens and paper have become the vehicle in which observation and expression pours through him, showing a perspective unadulterated. A perspective that seems only achieved when societal norms, which the majority of us feel obligated to settle for, are beyond reach. What he creates is pure and powerful.”

VOTE #68129 “A Child’s Garden”

Elementary art teacher Tim Donohoe said it’s a state art education standard that elementary students have “a gallery experience.” For nearly 500 who attend Pine Ridge Elementary, that standard has been satisfied in about the biggest way they could imagine: Their collaboration is displayed inside the airport’s main entrance, opposite an airline check-in counter. It has the potential to be viewed by thousands.

Every K-4 Pine Ridge student painted a flower of his or her own creation onto 4.25-inch-by-4.25-inch tiles, which were glazed and fired. Over the summer, Donohoe built a 5-foot high, 20-foot long wooden display rack to hold them.

The piece’s theme, according to the artist statement, is “an exploration of the garden as a symbol of growth, life, and nurture. What grows in your garden? Who helps it grow? What fruit do you want it to bear?”

And a school, as in a garden, is filled with individual entities who “do something together, as part of something huge,” Donohoe said.

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Morgan Jarema
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 or email Morgan.


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  1. Hello Morgan,

    It was a pleasure meeting you and Matthew really loved the piece you wrote.
    Thanks for all your time and efforts.

    What a fantastic impact; your work has inspired him to kept drawing.

    Best Regards,
    Matthew and Tom Howing


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