Students at Panther Valley High School are discovering art in unfamiliar words, thanks to an artist-in-residence grant from the National Endowment for the Arts and the Pennsylvania Council on the Arts.
Artist Victor Stabin of Jim Thorpe, who received the NEA grant to teach 10 three-hour sessions at PVHS, began his artist-in-residence seminar with a lecture based on the online gallery of his work at victorstabinprints. com.
Stabin, who has just released a book of his alphabet-themed artwork called Daedal Doodle, had just finished discussing the book's confluence of unusual vocabulary matched to original artwork when he and visual arts educator Kimberlee Burkett noticed that a unique number of students were enrolled in the program.
"It was serendipitous that we had 26 students and we had 26 letters of the alphabet," Burkett said. "Victor came up with the idea, based on his book, that each student would be assigned a letter. They are researching each letter by going to the dictionary and coming up with a list of words they do not know."
"They will find at least one noun and one adjective, words that intrigue them, something about who they are," she continued. "That's what Victor does with his art. He puts part of himself into his work."
"The challenge is to take at least two words they did not know, a noun and an adjective, to combine them, and to create an illustration of the words they discovered based on their letter."
"I'm asking each of the 26 kids to go through the dictionary, looking up words starting with the assigned letter," Stabin said. "The assignment is to find words that they have no idea what they mean. They read the dictionary and coming up with words they never heard before, nouns and adjectives that lend themselves to narratives.
"The first part is to find words and put them together in a clever way. The second part is to illustrate the words. They've come up with words that I think are terrific because I don't know them."
For instance ninth grader Cassie Branchid, who was assigned the letter "L," browsed through the dictionary, discovering dozens of unfamiliar words. From this list, she selected "lily-livered lycantropy – a cowardly man turned into a werewolf. This became the idea for her illustration.
"It was unusual because I never use the dictionary," Branchid said. "There are so many words out there, and art can be made out of basically everything."
Sam Zlock chose ulotrichous uakari, meaning a wooly monkey, as the theme of her illustration. Stabin helped her improve her drawing by explaining how to draw fur, and encouraging her to use elements that help to develop the subject. He suggested having the monkey hold a banana.
Austin Karnish selected a trio of words: kempt-keloid -kakapo, which he illustrated as a parrot in a tuxedo.
The program began with Burkett taking a group of art students to the Allentown Art Museum just before the start of its current renovation.
"Two months later, I received a call from Kathy Odorizzi Arts in Education Manager Allentown Art Museum," Burkett explained. "They received grant money from the National Endowment for the Arts to work with a school. She invited us to take part in an artist-in-residence seminar."
"I felt very lucky that she called me and I responded, 'Absolutely,'" Burkett said. "She asked me to think about an artist. I said I would like to pick someone local so the students could relate to and know and possibly our culminating activity will be to visit his gallery."
Burkett had visited Stabin's gallery adjacent to the Flow restaurant in Jim Thorpe, and she offered his name.
Burkett is pleased to have Stabin working with her students.
"The personal experience is invaluable. The kids are having a chance to work with an artist who is living, breathing and practicing his dream," Burkett said.