PUBLISHED: 3:06 PM on Wednesday, December 14, 2005
Art smart
Auke Bay elementary students learn Native art with hands-on experience

Photo by Amanda Gragert
  Auke Bay Elementary School student Calley Odum paints in a Native design on a panel, which will be mounted on a picnic shelter near Auke Bay.
Imagine voluntarily giving up your recess and lunch break to take on extra schoolwork.

That's what six Auke Bay Elementary students have been doing since Thanksgiving to bring a Native Art project to life.

Their work for a picnic shelter across from the school was unveiled in a celebration on Saturday.

The Rotary Club of Juneau built the shelter. Sealaska Heritage Institute's Donald Gregory commissioned designs from Washington master artist Steve Brown, and helped the students transfer the designs onto wood panels for the shelter.

Fourth graders Jouanna Aguilar, Andrea Gordon and Calley Odum, and fifth graders Devyn House, Kylie Ias and Jonah Swanson were nominated by Auke Bay teachers to work on the art project. They then had to write an essay about why they wanted to participate.

Auke Bay Elementary School's Victoria Johnson, who is an Alaska Native para-educator, supervised the students' involvement on the project and said she has enjoyed working with them and teaching them about the formations of native art.

Photo by Amanda Gragert
  Students from Auke Bay Elementary School who worked on a Native art project are, from left: (back) Jouanna Aguilar, Andrea Gordon, Kylie Ias, Calley Odum, Alaska Native para-educator Victoria Johnson (front) Devyn House and Jonah Swanson.
She said at first the students were excited that they were chosen out of the whole school, but then it became more about them working together to complete the project.

"They are very hard little workers," Johnson said. "They have been real team workers and will probably have lifetime friendships over this."

Students learned about the Tlingit designs of the shark and dog salmon and how the shapes and colors are all significant.

"I've learned what the colors are, and I like being with my friends," said fourth-grader Aguilar.

Fifth-grader Swanson said he is happy the panels are complete because he can once again enjoy recess, but he is excited for people to see the artwork.

"It gets tempting to go outside and skip art, but I go to art as much as I can," Swanson said. "I learned it takes lots of responsibility, work and time to get these panels done."

Fourth grader Gordon said she wants to be an artist and said she was glad to use her extra time painting the panels.

"I'm Native and wanted to be part of this. This is practically all I do," Gordon said.

"One time we didn't have art and I felt weird being at recess because I hadn't been there for a long time."

A commitment to complete the project was a critical part of the student-created art.

"I'm very into art and have a lot of craft projects at home, which I take out very often. My dream job is an artist. It's been difficult to remember to come down to art, but it's been very fun," fourth grader Odum said. "I think my life is going to be a little less stressful, but I'm sad it's done."

Fifth-grader House has been chronicling the project start to finish with photographs while she's been painting.

"I like doing artwork a lot, but I never knew it was going to be so much work. I've learned about Tlingit artwork, and that's pretty cool," House said.

"I'm really sad it's over because I love painting, but I've always wanted to be a photographer, and I've gotten to take pictures of everybody working."

Johnson said the students have each taken something personal with them in creating the artwork, and she is glad to see them learning Native culture in the school.

"It's been really hard for me not to jump in because they are having so much fun," Johnson said.

"It's been a real treat to work with these students, and I think that shelter will have a special meaning for them."

The completed art will be installed on the shelter in the spring, Johnson said.

"It feels really exciting for other people to see what we've done,"said fifth-grader Ias.