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Family members and heroes honored through art project

Seventh-grader Natalia Camargo-Rodriguez explains the symbols on her sugar skull, and how they represent her grandmother

Godwin Heights — Eighth-grader Jose Reyes Medel’s cousin, Chuck Medel, died last fall, leaving a hole in his family.

“He just really meant a lot to me,” Jose said. “He helped my dad out at family events and did a lot for my family.”

So when art teacher Jeff Saltzgaber announced a sugar skull drawing project, Jose knew he wanted to dedicate his piece to his cousin.

“I have never had the chance to express or dedicate anything to him,” he said. He planned to surprise his family with the work.

Students in Saltzgaber’s art class worked for about a week on their drawings, which concluded their study of symmetry. The sugar skulls, along with butterfly and graffiti projects, were to be displayed in the school’s library.

Because sugar skulls usually represent the deceased, a key component of the drawings was that students dedicate their pieces to a family member, friend or famous person who died within the last 10 years and who had an impact on their lives, Saltzgaber said.

Students researched their chosen honoree and came up with 15 symbols to represent that person; seventh-grader Natalia Camargo-Rodriguez drew balls of yarn, for example, as her grandmother enjoyed knitting.

Learning About a Tradition, Discovering Connections

Natalia said she did not really know her grandmother.

“By the time I knew her, she already had Alzheimer’s, so she really could not remember much,” she said. Her mother told her about her grandmother’s love of knitting, music and pets.

“I think the (project) gave me a closer connection to her,” Natalia said.

Students also were required to include different forms of symmetry beginning with the shape of the skull, which was to be exactly alike on both sides; as well as radial symmetry, with symbols placed around an axis on the skull; and asymmetry, with other symbols placed randomly on the background.

Seventh-grader Ramiele Sucaldito decided to dedicate her sugar skull drawing to the ‘queen of soul,’ Aretha Franklin

The project also gave students the opportunity to explore the Mexican Day of the Dead, or Día de los Muertos, which Saltzgaber noted several of his students observed in their own homes. A celebratory holiday to remember the dead, one of the symbols of the Day of the Dead is the sugar skull, which is placed on an altar, or ofrenda, to honor the deceased.  

“We learned a lot about the traditions such as the sugar skulls, and that marigolds are used to decorate the altar,” said eighth-grader Vanessa Rodgers.

Vanessa chose the late rapper Pop Smoke for her sugar skull because she enjoys his music, she said. 

“I used blue in the design because that was his favorite color,” Vanessa said. “I used the music notes because of his love of music, and I have these writing tablets because he loved to write.”

Read more from Godwin Heights: 
The impact of a story
Just a Godwin girl

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Joanne Bailey-Boorsma
Joanne Bailey-Boorsma
Joanne Bailey-Boorsma is a reporter covering Kent ISD, Godwin Heights, Kelloggsville, Forest Hills and Comstock Park. The salutatorian for the Hartland Public Schools class of 1985, she changed her colors from blue and maize to green and white by attending Michigan State University, where she majored in journalism. Joanne moved to the Grand Rapids area in 1989, where she started her journalism career at the Advance Newspapers. She later became the editor for On-the-Town magazine, a local arts and entertainment publication. Her eldest daughter is a nurse, working in Holland, and her youngest attends Oakland University. Both are graduates from Byron Center High School. She is a volunteer for the Van Singel Fine Arts Advisory Board and the Kent District Library. In her free time, Joanne enjoys spending time with her family, checking out local theater and keeping up with all the exchange students they have hosted through the years. Read Joanne's full bio


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