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Students Eye Current Events for Artistic Inspiration

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ipswich middle school art show
Seventh grade student Pia Stewart points out art to mother Leigh and brother Toby, a fourth grader

IPSWICH — It’s art, but always topical.

Last year, the musical Hamilton dominated headlines and was the inspiration behind much of the artwork at the middle school’s winter art show.

This year, #MeToo and women in the workplace fed into the class and discussions about why women are underrepresented in history, said art teacher Virginia Eaton.

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Because the class encourages cross-disciplinary work, students draw on history, current events, and Spanish (which they start in middle school).

The end result is art that encourages critical thinking. This year, Eaton said some students picked a woman foremost in her field “who spoke to them.”

Drawing on that pioneer’s work, the students set about making art. Stephanie Kwolek, for example, invented the bullet-proof vest and inspired an art vest in return.

Ada Lovelace invented computer programming in the mid-1800s — long before computers as we know them were invented.

For the kids interested in Spanish, they were encouraged to research the work of Spanish-speaking artists.

The challenge then was to channel that artist and draw a self-portrait, Eaton explained.

Dali and Frida Kahlo were among the many who provided inspiration there.

Other students drew on the natural world. Chloe Doonan made a bust of a kiwi. The eight-grader said her sister visited New Zealand and brought back a kiwi gift.

Asked about the art class, Doonan said, “I really like it. It’s fun, and you really get to express yourself.”

Pia Stewart also drew on nature, but it was closer to home. Lost for ideas and needing inspiration, she said it came in the form of her two pet rabbits.

Her two figures were part of a large display of animals. Asked if anyone had asked to buy them, she laughed. “No, not yet.”

Student teacher Eliza Dupee helped Eaton guide the students with their projects.

An artist herself, Dupee will get one semester of teaching experience at the school before she graduates in May.

A Pittsburg, Pennsylvania, native studying at Gordon College, she said, “I’m definitely getting a lot out of it.”

“I always throw them right in,” Eaton said of her student teachers, adding that it’s important for the novices to find their voice.

In her own art, Dupee is drawn to drawing, print-making, and relief woodcuts. But she enjoys working with students who use all kinds of media in their projects.

“I get to dip my hands in everything,” Dupee said.

Working with middle schoolers is interesting, she added, because she helps the students with their “big ideas and tries to help them figure out what’s realistic for them and not to get discouraged along the way.”

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