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WCHS students capture local history in artwork

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By Brandon Mattingly

A unique piece of art has been displayed around town recently that is the work of young, local artists and encompasses what it means to be from Washington County.

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Washington County High School students completed a triptych, or three-panel piece, that includes historical figures, landmarks and documents that represent local history. The project was part of a Teaching Art Together grant sponsored by the Kentucky Arts Council, and even consisted of professional artist Carrie Neumayer visiting to work with students on the piece. Neumayer is an illustrator for multiple magazines in Kentucky and does freelance work in illustration and commissioned art.

“She helped us to evolve our original idea into the final product,” said Marilyn Peters, art teacher at WCHS. “She also met the students and looked at their work before starting to work with them on the project. Carrie laid the foundation for the project with the students, taught them new techniques and helped keep them focused on the project.”

The students were able to complete the project in 10 instructional days, which included a rundown of Washington County history with Springfield Main Street/Renaissance Director Nell Haydon collecting and photocopying historical documents and even using computer software to create a design of the 1816 Courthouse building. While Peters said a core group of students performed the grunt work on the project, she noted that as many as 50 different students had a hand in the final piece thanks to contributions from AP studio art, drawing and painting classes.

“I learned a lot of things that I never even knew about Washington County, like that we had baseball players and things like that,” said sophomore Miranda Richardson. “I didn’t know half of that stuff, so it was nice to learn about where I’m from.”

“I’d never seen a piece of artwork done in that style, so it was definitely a fun project. I really enjoyed it,” added senior James Rossman. “It was beyond my expectations. I’m actually doing my own piece now that’s in that same style.”

The piece of artwork has unique attributes, including copies of historical documents and newspaper articles being soaked in tea, burned at the edges and coated in watercolor washes to give the appearance of aging. The historical documents and articles serve as the background of the artwork. The idea to give the triptych a historical theme came from discussions between Peters and WCHS Gifted and Talented Coordinator Carolyn Ray, who along with Jill Settles, had a big role in the application process, including what would give them the best chance of receiving the grant. It didn’t take long to see that students were picking up on some interesting local history.

“At the onset of the project, Nell Haydon visited the core class and spent an hour sharing the history of Washington County from the time of the buffalo trail to Phil Simms,” Peters said. “I knew we were successful when one of the students confided in me that they had learned so much about Washington County in the first few days of the project.”

Peters said Springfield Tourism jumped at the opportunity to get involved and even helped with funding. Peters, Ray and several students displayed the piece at last week’s Springfield Rotary Club meeting, and it was also on display at last week’s city council meeting. A permanent home for the triptych has yet to be determined, but Peters said it belongs to Washington County.

“We also looked at this as a way to give back to our community,” she said. “We consider the finished product property of the community and look forward to having it displayed throughout the county before finally finding a permanent place of exhibit in Washington County.”

The Teaching Art Together grant provided by the Kentucky Arts Council partners a visiting professional artist with a school art program (includes dance, drama, music, etc.) to provide an opportunity for a teacher or group of teachers to work with a professional in the arts field in a manner outside of traditional methods.