Shoreview elementary: Small pieces, big pictures

  • Article by: Maria Elena Baca
  • Star Tribune
  • October 17, 2007 - 11:32 PM

Students at Island Lake Elementary School in Shoreview are celebrating their school's 50th birthday by making a gift to future students. That's how visiting artist Ta-coumba Aiken sees the project he's begun with students to create a two-piece canvas mural that will hang in the school's gymnasium.

"Kids in the future could include a picture of kids painting a mural," he said. "You want kids to know they're part of something. It's not that it's something bigger than them, but that they're part of it because they're big." Each of the school's 684 students will have a chance to contribute to the canvases, which will be unveiled at the school Nov. 5.

Art teacher Ann Gerold Stibal, a member of the school's 50th anniversary celebration committee, had worked with Aiken before. When the idea of creating a mural came up, his name was the first to come to her mind.

"I'm really exposing [the students] to a lot more abstract art than most people think of murals," she said.

"Every day he shows them different things; it's good for them to see a variety of styles and ways of looking at art," Stibal said.

The cost of creating the mural is covered by grants from the Island Lake PTA and the Sylvia Ho-Ling Hui Lam Memorial Fund of the Chinese Heritage Foundation.

Aiken's artwork can be found all over the metro area, from the Minneapolis Central Library and Gillette Children's Specialty Healthcare in St. Paul, to the ADC Communications cafeteria in Eden Prairie to a grain elevator in Good Thunder, Minn. An exhibition of his work opens Nov. 16 at the Minneapolis Institute of Arts.

Ideas from kids' hands

Work on the Island Lake Mural began first thing Monday morning. With an easy manner and a speaking style that included singing and silly voices, Aiken led a class of fifth-graders through a slide show of completed mural projects. The kids oohed at his stories of defeating a fear of heights to complete the 60-foot-tall Good Thunder grain elevator.

"Do you think I was scared? Yes, I was," he said, repeating his grandmother's wisdom, "Nothing beats a failure but a try."

He showed a series of abstract paintings, swirling montages of images and color.

"These are things I just see on the street," he told them. "They come out of my imagination."

Then, with help from their own imaginations and a 50-year timeline on the walls of the hallway outside the art classroom, the students pulled out pencils and Aiken's oil pastels and began to create their own artwork on the theme of the 50-year anniversary. Over the next half-hour, kids filled sheets of drawing paper with large and colorful numeral 50s, disco balls, figures holding hands, self-portraits, banners and robots.

Aiken collected artwork from 10 rotations of students in the art class this week; now his job is to take the children's art and weave it into two cohesive works of art.

"I do it in their style," he said. "I don't change it. The kids call me the human Xerox."

Next week, Aiken will return to Island Lake with the penciled canvases. Students will continue to add images and will color the pictures with acrylic paint.

For Stibal, the exercise makes art more real for her students, as consumers and as young people looking for a niche.

"There's this kind of famous person, but that person is a regular Joe like the rest of us," she said. "It's the authenticity of it. And if there are aspiring artists, they'll see it's possible to do that as a life choice."

Maria Elena Baca • 612-673-4409

Maria Elena Baca •

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