Panther Valley students have combined art, music, and history through this year's Artist in Residency program at the school, taking place in April and May.
The most vivid example of this academic collaboration will be unveiled on May 7 during the school's spring band concert and art show. During the concert, students will unveil a mural of local musical legends Tommy and Jimmy Dorsey, American jazz musicians who were born in Schuylkill County. Students will also perform dances and display masks inspired by the tribes of Papua New Guinea.
This is the third year that Panther Valley has hosted an artist through the Artist in Residency program. Kimberlee Burkett, the art teacher at the high school, incorporates a different academic discipline into the residency program each year. Last year, students paired art with English and created a book to explore literary art. This year's pairing of art and music allowed the students to explore both the visual and performing arts.
"I have always seen art and music as connected," said Burkett. "Music and dance are a performing art. We're a visual art. It's all a form of expression."
She noted that many of the elements that artists incorporate into the visual arts, like repetition and variety, can also be seen in music and dance.
"It all goes together," said Burkett.
This year's residency program allowed the district to host portrait painter Stephen Bennett, based in Tamaqua and New York. Bennett has traveled the world painting portraits, capturing the faces, personality and culture of individuals in more than 40 countries. His portrait work has been exhibited in public and private galleries in numerous countries, including the United States, Australia, Borneo, Indonesia, Mexico, and more, and was also featured in three sets of United Nations postage stamps in 2009, 2010 and 2013.
"Portraits are something that I always found interesting," said Bennett. "Whenever I come into a community, part of the work that I do is to celebrate their history and character. I want to capture their role models who have made a difference in their community."
When Bennett asked faculty members for a history-making person from the region, school principal Joseph Gunnels quickly suggested the Dorsey brothers.
"I didn't know they were from this area. They introduced Elvis to the world," said Bennett, noting that Elvis had his television debut on the Dorsey Brothers Stage Show.
The finished mural is 9 feet by 13 feet and will be displayed in the high school auditorium. The painting was completed by a dozen of the high school's artists and guided by Bennett. The student artists also completed research on the siblings. Bennett chose to lead them through a painting of a younger version of the brothers, hoping to better inspire and relate to the young artists and all of the high school's students.
"They see people outside of our area who do exceptional things, and they don't think it could ever happen to them. I hope this inspires the students," he said.
He noted that the mural reflects the art nouveau style, which was popular during the height of the Dorsey siblings' career. The arbitrary colors also reflect the students' creativity and modern style.
"It's wonderful. It's colorful, and a lot of fun to look at," said Bennett. "It will make a great addition to the school.
"Even though the colors are a bit abstract, the subject matter is realistic. I can't stop looking at it," added Burkett.
The art exhibit and concert will also feature dances and masks created by students, inspired by Bennett's travels to Papua New Guinea.
"They have so much music there. It's something the kids can relate to, because it's about a beat and uncomplicated," he said.
The Artist in Residency program is sponsored by the AIE Partnership of Pennsylvania Council of the Arts. This is a state agency, funded by the citizens of Pennsylvania through annual legislative appropriations, and administered locally by the Allentown Art Museum. The Pennsylvania Council of the Arts is supported by the National Endowment for the Arts.
Bennett noted that it's is important for youngsters interested in art to interact with a professional artist, showing the students that it's possible to become a professional artist no matter where you live. He has worked with children throughout the world, and during his time at Panther Valley has also spent time doing portrait sessions at the elementary and middle schools.
The Dorsey brothers' mural will be unveiled during a combined art show and band concert on May 7 at the high school, 912 Coal Region Way in Lansford. The art exhibit begins at 6:30; the concert begins at 7 p.m. and will feature members of the elementary, middle school, and high school bands.
Organizers are currently looking for relatives of the Dorsey family to attend the unveiling. For more information, contact Kimberlee Burkett at (570) 778-6544.