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St. Cecilia eighth-graders Ella Gerken, left, and Johnna Pick stand with their photos Jan. 23 at an art gallery in St. Cecilia Cathedral’s cultural center. St. Cecilia students used lessons from a visiting artist in creating their own work. SUSAN SZALEWSKI

St. Cecilia students learn art from the experts

Not many schools enjoy the perk of being a parking lot away from a cathedral and an art gallery, both magnets for artists.

But that’s where St. Cecilia School finds itself. And educators there use the school’s unique situation to bring art and artists to all their students as part of a collaboration with the Cathedral Arts Project (CAP).

The partnership is natural for CAP, whose goal of bringing arts to the community, said Linda Stigge, a CAP organizer.

Students have met mural painters, photographers, printmakers and other artists, and have tried their hand at the different mediums after getting some professional advice.

Often the students’ finished pieces are displayed near the work of the professionals.

“The students feel like artists when their work hangs in the gallery,” St. Cecilia art teacher Christine Koehn said.

As an added bonus, parents are lured into the cathedral’s cultural center and are exposed to the featured artists’ work, Stigge said. “It’s all about educating the community.”

Students enjoy seeing the fruits of their labor, Principal Julia Pick said, and she enjoys seeing their hunger and aptitude for art grow – even if that means catching students making paper cranes in math class.

The origami cranes were a favorite of eighth-grader Ella Gerken. 

Learning how to make them taught her patience, she said, because it was a complex, step-by-step process. But she kept at it and eventually could create four or five cranes during class time.

The cranes were part of a schoolwide focus on peace in September, when an artist displayed her moveable “World Peace” mural at the cultural center and visited with St. Cecilia students.

Cranes are a symbol of peace in Japan, Koehn said. And origami is an art form there.

Johnna Pick, another eighth-grader and daughter of the principal, said her favorite art lessons have involved photography. She said she is considering becoming a professional photographer.

In January, students in the upper grades got lessons from a local photographer. He taught them to look at the world through a viewfinder, to see ordinary things in a beautiful way and to consider lighting and lines when taking a picture, Koehn said.

Then they stepped outside with iPads, looking for shots that used shapes and told stories, their dual assignment.

Johnna said she learned to use the editing tools of photo manipulation software, including one that could bring the main subject of a photo into sharp focus and blur out other elements.

The students critiqued their finished photos, and their teacher made 8-by-10-inch prints for art gallery display, near the work of two professionals.

The CAP artists are experts in their fields and teach students lessons “they can’t normally get from me,” Koehn said.

Stigge, Koehn and Pick get excited as they talk about attracting artists and exposing students to unique art forms. A glass artist is planned for March and possibly a weaver for next year.

The CAP-St. Cecilia collaboration began in 2016 when Koehn began teaching art at St. Cecilia and Stigge and Brother William Woeger, the CAP executive director, approached the school about working together.

Koehn said she helps find funding to pay for artist visits, supplies and other needs. Sources have included the Nebraska Arts Council and St. Cecilia parent volunteer organizations.

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