- Associated Press - Sunday, June 1, 2014

LINCOLN, Neb. (AP) - Just as petroglyphs tell the stories of people living thousands of years ago, the series of seven framed quilts inside Humann Elementary School’s entrance capture the essence of 316 former students.

This past week, the last of those youth graduated from the Lincoln elementary to middle school.

But their histories and passions remain on the wall in the form of screen-printed symbols created through a joint public art venture with Lincoln artist Liz Shea-McCoy and Humann art teacher Kathy Stewart.

The Lincoln Journal Star reports (http://bit.ly/1nvdkeq ) the project began three years ago, with a Humann Parent Teacher Organization-funded residency for Shea-McCoy. Working with third- through fifth-graders, McCoy talked with the students about public art projects - and how they differ from traditional art hanging in galleries or on the family fridge.

At the second gathering, McCoy told them to create three or four personal symbols- each reflecting their talents, interests and passions. She had only one caveat: “I told them I didn’t want to see anything I had seen before. No recognizable letters. No ying and yang and no Go Big Red.”

Then McCoy had them take those three or four drawings and overlap them to create a single symbolic reflection of themselves.

To help get the concept across, Stewart and McCoy talked to the students about ancient petroglyphs and how they told stories of ancient times — learning how art connected history and cultures. And they saw how art, especially symbols, communicates specific images and knowledge, particularly in advertising. For example, the Taco Bell bell and the Arm & Hammer logos are easily recognizable.

Once the students created their personal symbols, they redrew them into larger images. Stewart and a cadre of parent volunteers then meticulously cut the symbols into stencils.

Those stencils were then used to screen-print the symbols onto a T-shirt and onto a cream-colored canvas square. Stewart then took those 316 squares home and sewed and stretched them across Styrofoam frames, where upon they were framed in seven black wood frames and hung in the school’s main lobby.

The artwork is definitely a conversation piece - especially for the 2014 fifth-grade class - students who were mere third-graders when they created their symbols.

Some students couldn’t remember exactly the stories behind their symbol - after all, three years is a long time in the world of elementary school.

But others knew exactly what they were trying to reveal about themselves. For Trevor Yorges and Jared Topil, it was a love of sports. Ty Cooper’s symbol looks a little like an Xbox game controller with a dinosaur head and a Ninja star belly. Which is exactly what it is supposed to be, the 11-year-old said.

Kayla Foster’s symbol combined a volleyball net with a piece of a four-leaf clover, imbued with checkmarks and stars.

“I like St. Patrick’s Day and I like checkmarks and stars,” the 10-year-old said.

Brittany Wulf also included a volleyball as well as a passion for swimming, friends and family.

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