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Franklin Academy students build living versions of famous American works
By Neva Yinger
WAKE FOREST — In the past three years, two Franklin Academy Middle School teachers have built up a unique multi-disciplinary annual art project for their 8th grade students.
Theater Arts teacher Heather Dahlberg and Visual Arts teacher Lindsay Schmidt guide their students each year through the creation and display of several living recreations of famous works of art. Their motivation? Providing an outlet for their students to unleash their creativity, develop professionalism, and create something they can be proud of.
“So many times I think middle school students are minimized and marginalized,” said Dahlberg, “So the idea of doing something professional, something impressive…that is what we want our students to desire, we want that type of excellence,” Dahlberg added.
Since its launch, the program has become popular in the Franklin Academy calendar.
“It’s now become something that the parents and teachers look forward to,” said Schmidt.
Each year, the reviews from parents and teachers have been enthusiastic.
“I don’t think we’ve ever received any negative or even mediocre critiques,” said Dahlberg.
“When I talk to other past teachers especially, they’re so impressed with these kids’ professionalism,” said Schmidt, “One of the teachers commented that it almost brought tears to her eyes because she was so impressed with the professionalism and what these kids can do,” Schmidt added.
The students who make the show happen are also thrilled with the results of each year.
“They’re so proud of themselves, they’re so proud of their work,” said Schmidt.
Putting together the show, which contained seven pieces this year, was no small feat. The project got underway at the beginning of the school year in August, and set construction began in October.
Putting it together
“It’s a massive undertaking,” said Schmidt.
Although Dahlberg and Schmidt choose the paintings to recreate, the students have a key role in directing the project. After Dahlberg and Schmidt choose the paintings, Schmidt divides her art students into groups, and each group determines what elements are in a painting that need to be represented, what props, furniture and materials are required, what paint to buy, and so on. Dahlberg’s acting students play the figures in the paintings, and her production students handle makeup, which is extensive for many of the pieces.
Although the teachers do what they can to keep the costs down by purchasing many items secondhand, and choosing paintings that are “attainable but challenging,” many of the necessary supplies such as airbrush stage makeup are tremendously expensive. This year, they received a grant from Wake Electric that made several of the pieces possible.
“It was really such a huge blessing that we got that grant this year because it really helped us to take it to the next level,” said Dahlberg.
She noted that without the grant, some of the pieces would have been impossible due to the cost of leather and airbrush makeup.
Each year, the sets and costumes for each piece are kept in storage, putting the existing collection at almost 20 pieces. Next year, Schmidt says they’re considering doing a “greatest hits” theme and focusing on executing several pieces that have been done before to the best of their ability. This year’s theme was great American artists, and the first year featured some of the most famous works of art of all time, such as The Scream and American Gothic.
“Each year we try to push the bar a little higher, we try to make it a little more interesting or add a little more depth to it,” said Schmidt.
Although Dahlberg and Schmidt direct the project and put in countless hours planning, sewing costumes, and teaching about the history of the works involved, they want to put the spotlight on their students and give them the credit.
“We’re so proud of our kids,” said Schmidt.