‘Doing art well is what matters’

Sixto Pablo-Ramirez poses with one of his many favorite works

Art is everything to sixth grader Sixto Pablo-Ramirez. His art comes from deep inside, he said, and he sometimes fights tears as he explains what each piece means to him.

Sixto Pablo-Ramirez shows off his honeycomb painting

“This one,” he said, pointing to a canvas with a honeycomb, “was done one day when I was feeling kind of stuck. Being stuck just made me think of honey; it is so sticky.”

Another piece with colorful waves demonstrates a “wave of hope” coming over him, he explained.

Of a piece with a prominent religious symbol: “I love this one. I was really seeking hope that day, and hope made me think of the Virgin Mary.”

Sixto Pablo-Rameriz painted the winning poster while in fifth grade

The Big Award

Sixto was in fifth grade when he painted a poster that brought him an unexpected reward.

Every year Kent City Elementary art students participate in a contest hosted by American Legion Post 123, down the street from school. Student work is entered in a poster contest that the Legion uses to promote Veteran’s Day events, this year on Nov. 11. Last year Sixto placed first in the local contest and third in a district competition.

Sixto moved on to middle school and had nearly forgotten about the poster contest. Then he got the news.

This fall, Kent City Assistant Principal Jordan Stuhan, accompanied by Post 123 representative Mary Portell, told students that one of their classmates had won a “really cool prize.”

Cheers began when Portell shared the news of a first place win in Kent City, got louder when she mentioned the district win, and became wild with the words: “first in the State of Michigan.”

“We are really happy when our little Kent City Post gets noticed,” she said, “but we couldn’t have been prouder when we learned at our annual meeting, this poster had taken first in the nation.”

Sixto’s poster will be used to promote the American Legion’s annual poppy drive throughout the country. He received a financial award for his work, and did not hesitate when asked how it would be used: “I will save it for when we get a house,” he said.

According to the artist, the winning poppy poster wasn’t some of his best work. “I had to do it on a day that I was really sad,” he said. “My mom was moving to California for work so she could save money and get us a house here.” Distracted with family news, he tweaked his winning poppy design from the year before and he “tried to add words that wouldn’t show how crazy I was feeling (at the time of the painting).”

More About the Artist

Sixto has been been interested in art as long as he can remember. “I only had pencils and line paper when I was little, but I was always drawing something,” he said.

He said he has never, even as a small child, liked to copy and admits to being a bit annoyed when art teacher MaryClare Johnson, who retired last spring, assigned the class to create pieces resembling well-known art. “I didn’t like it much, because it didn’t come from myself, but I learned a lot and sometimes it was fun,” Sixto said.

He “really hated” studying Picasso because, “I don’t like abstract and I don’t do shapes.”

Kent City art teacher MaryClare Johnson displays student work in her home

But he was less annoyed with another style. 

“As he completed the pastel piece while studying Henri Matisse, it just all fell into place for him,” Johnson said. “He enjoyed it very much, and it was so enjoyable to watch him go through the process and complete it step by step.”

Sixto gave up recess time to work more on the piece, and when it was finished he gifted it to his teacher.

“I refused it at first because I thought it should stay in his family, because it was so beautiful. But he insisted,” Johnson said. “It was a heartfelt gift that meant a great deal to me, and I told him that it would hang in my new home. Proudly, it is a centerpiece in my dining room.”

In addition to his art skills, Johnson points to Sixto’s exemplary work ethic, confidence and kind personality. At a year-end fifth grade celebration, he stood and thanked her for inspiring him as an artist.

“Sixto is one of those rare people who was born with a tremendous skill to create art from what he sees and interprets,” Johnson said. “He can most certainly use his skills to sustain a career in the art world.”

Sixto is not currently in an art class, but that seems just fine with him. “I think art is personal, and I really like making what I want to make,” he said.

As for the big award: “Winning doesn’t bring me the thrill; the excitement is being able to do what brings me the thrill. Doing art well is what matters.”

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Janice Holst
Janice Holst has been both a teacher and a journalist. A former MLive reporter, she wrote features and covered local government and schools for Advance Newspapers for nearly two decades. She also was a recipe columnist and wrote features for Mature Life Style and occasional entertainment pieces for On The Town magazines. She lives in Sparta Township and is thrilled to spend some of her retirement hours writing the stories of the northern Kent County school districts. Read Janice's full bio or email Janice.

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