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L-EMS celebrates art for the eyes, ears
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Students formed groups to recreate symbolic silhouettes inspired by artist Kara Walker. Eighth-grade students study the Civil War in their core social studies class; power, race and gender are some of Walkers themes. Students studied Walkers techniques in Stiles art class. Stiles said she tries to show students the importance of becoming visually literate citizens despite budget cuts. - photo by Miciah Bennett

A school turned art gallery. Avant-garde.

Lugoff-Elgin Middle School (L-EMS) art teacher Holly Stiles turned L-EMS into an art gallery to showcase sixth-, seventh- and eighth-grade art work. A long hallway with Jackson Pollock-inspired work led to a rotunda featuring a white shirt project. Other halls featured work inspired by South Carolinian artist Enid Williams; Jasper Johns, Kara Walker, author Dave Eggers, Andy Warhol, and the life experience of middle school-aged children. The gallery included music by a group of seven L-EMS percussionists. The seventh- and eighth-grade band played “Stinkin’ Garbage,” a three-minute piece played with drumsticks and aluminum trash cans.

Eighth-graders study local artists to complement what they are learning in their core classes. During a portion of their curriculum focusing on Civil Rights, students studied Kara Walker’s Civil War-era silhouettes in their social studies classes and in Stiles’ art class. Walker’s art explores power, race and gender, Stiles said. Students worked in groups to create their own Walker-inspired symbolic silhouettes.

“It was the most successful project of the year,” Stiles said. “Students really got into it.”

Seventh-graders Gracie Hill, 13, and Madison McKim, 12, said it was fun that people got to see the art they created in Stiles’ class. Madison said Basquiat is her favorite artist they’ve studied this year. She said they studied the artist for two weeks and had to create a six-word memoir. Gracie said Keith Herring was her favorite. Both girls said Stiles is unique in her teaching methods; both girls said they feel like she teaches them advanced levels of art.

“I liked drawing in the beginning, but this expanded it,” Gracie said of her art class.

Stiles has taught art at L-EHS for five years. She has spearheaded the school art gallery for the last three years. The gallery has multiple exhibits and shows the progression of skill and knowledge from sixth-to-eighth grade. It is open to the community each year.

The projects are based on state-standards and correlate with core classes. Social justice and student voices have been a theme this year, Stiles said.

“I want students to connect with it, especially with art being pushed out and not emphasized. An art education helps make a well- educated and well-rounded person,” Stiles said. “It’s important to create visually literate students at an early age.”

Stiles said she tries to make the classes “entertaining” and “innovative” so that students correlate what they are learning in their class to their lives. Stiles spends two to three weeks on each “cohesive” and diverse lesson in order to create visually literate students who understand the importance of the arts. The Kershaw County School District office and L-EMS give “tremendous support,” Stiles said, which encourages her to work with L-EMS’ only other arts teacher, band director Chris Meserve.

Stiles’ student teacher, Brittany Hayes, taught students to assemble hand-made books throughout a nine-week period. Sixth-graders focused on their brain; seventh- and eighth-graders focus on themselves and their lives. Students explored everything from the effects of Alzheimer’s on a family to divorce. Stiles said some books weren’t featured because students had expressed emotions that they didn’t want on display. Hayes said students opened up after talking about certain issues in their books.

“Students who never talked to anyone were stepping up and offering to help,” she said.

Stiles said art is a “great medium to examine issues” because students are at a critical point in their lives.