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Sketching a land of liberty

Patriotic images and essays predominated Saturday at the opening of the sixth annual Word and Image elementary school student show at the Arts Center.

Seventy-seven drawings, selected from more than 200 entries, represented the work of children from 18 schools who responded to the theme "Let Freedom Ring." The students supplemented their drawings with written statements.

The written work carried as much weight as the visual element in the judging, said Rob Giordano, director of youth programming for the Arts Center.

"It gave them a double-barreled way to express themselves," he said. "A picture is worth a thousand words, but when they add the written piece, it can be very dramatic. It can be very uplifting for the children as well as for the people who come to see their work."

This year's theme attracted varied and thoughtful responses, Giordano said.

Sarah Owens of Westgate Elementary drew an eagle holding an olive branch and a clutch of arrows in its talons. "We are free now, but if I were alive a long time ago, I may have been a slave," she wrote.

Chelsea Cutino, a fourth-grader at Ozona Elementary, drew a flag and an eagle. She wrote: "You can pronounce or declare your opinions if you desire. No one is going to march up to you and zip your mouth to prevent you from proclaiming your problem."

Garrison-Jones Elementary fifth-grader Julia Clouser drew people greeting each other on a city street, with a flag and the Liberty Bell in the background. "Freedom rings when I say the Pledge of Allegiance or sing The Star-Spangled Banner," she wrote. "I go to school and get an education along with everyone else and I hear freedom ring. I travel to another state to visit my family. When I look down out of the plane, I see freedom ringing."

A watercolor in pale green and lavender stood out amid the sea of red, white and blue. Jessica Nichols, a fifth-grader at Fairmount Park, painted a child splashing in a puddle and described a different type of freedom.

"As kids in America, we are allowed to go out and play," she wrote. "There are countries in many parts of the world where children are expected to help earn money for their families. Children may have to work in diamond mines, rug factories or cocoa fields. In America, children are free just to be kids. We can play with our friends, ride our bikes, or play in the rain. How lucky we are to have the freedom to just be kids."

Jessica's efforts earned one of four Awards of Excellence presented at the show. Other first-place winners were Fairmount Park fifth-grader Corey Ross, and Kayla Reddick and Allison Lutich, fifth-graders at Palm Harbor Elementary. The girls created a single entry to demonstrate that teamwork contributed to making America free.

Giving the students a chance to interpret a broad theme is part of the artistic challenge, Giordano said.

"The wonderful thing about art is that you can never be wrong. You can never make a mistake. It's not like math or spelling. When you tell kids that, sometimes they look at you with confusion. Sometimes they sigh with relief."

Jennifer Moore's students at Lealman Elementary School drew portraits of each other in a variety of media and wrote about creative freedom in their essays. The decision to depict creative freedom came from the children, she said.

"I just left it to them, and they really took off with it. I tried to stay clear of getting in the way of what they were doing so they could be more independent."

Markeia Terrell, a fifth-grader, wrote, "When I come to art, I feel free because we get to draw and color whatever our imagination tells us to draw and color." Fifth-grader Robert Wall wrote, "I can paint whatever I want. . . . I am not forced to paint stuff that's not my choice." And Michael Brown, a third-grader, wrote, "I feel free because you can color anything any color. A person who has black hair can suddenly have red hair!"

The idea for the Word and Image shows, which feature the work of elementary, middle and high school students in separate exhibits throughout the year, evolved from a training session for art teachers led by Sue Froemming, the district's art supervisor.

"I wondered if it could enhance their writing to put the two pieces together," she said. "It's really blossomed the last couple of years, especially at the elementary level. The elementary kids are so creative with both the art and the writing piece."

The show gives children a chance to experience the competitive, evaluative process in which professional artists participate, Froemming said. It also helps build their creative self-esteem and provides recognition for their efforts.

Because of the overwhelming response to last year's call for entries, a second elementary show will be mounted in January to give more children a chance to show their work. The present exhibit will be on display at the Arts Center, 719 Central Ave., through Dec. 31. Hours are 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Saturday and noon to 4 p.m. Sunday. Admission is free.