Fine Artists in the Schools

Justin Lafreniere explains his idea for his project about the beach to art teacher Nancy Hannans.
Justin Lafreniere explains his idea for his project about the beach to art teacher Nancy Hannans. (Rafael Suanes - Rafael Suanes)
By Maria Glod
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, October 20, 2005

The living room walls of Megan Gleason's Reston condominium are lime green. Instead of buying a rug, she decorated a heavy canvas in shades of pink, purple and blue, painting checks and diamonds and even green olives stuffed with red pimentos.

She painted her bedroom walls hot pink and her bathroom a slightly lighter pink. And when Gleason, an art teacher at Waples Mill Elementary School in Oakton, finished the spaces in her condo, she began painting pictures of whimsical rooms instead of decorating the real things.

Gleason, 36, said part of the inspiration for her artwork comes from the children who bound into her classroom to fashion three-dimensional crickets from paper or paint abstract images of trees and plants or turn lumps of clay into gargoyles.

"My love of painting really came from making pleasurable spaces, making a space where I want to be," Gleason said. "It's really happy and really bright, and that's been influenced by the kids."

Gleason's cheery designs also appealed to a team of judges who selected one of her works -- a painting titled "Lemonade and Gerber Daisies" -- to be featured in "Best of Virginia Artists and Artisans 2005," a book set to be published later this year.

Gleason is among four Fairfax County teachers, and about 80 artists statewide, whose work will appear in the book.

A graceful vase crafted by George Juliano, a teacher at Robinson Secondary School in Fairfax, was a winner in the ceramics category. Paintings by Nancy Hannans, who teaches computer graphics and art at Hayfield Secondary School in the Alexandria area, and Dolores Wimberly, an art teacher at Longfellow Middle School in the Falls Church area, also were chosen.

"Best of Virginia Artists and Artisans 2005" is the brainchild of Renee Kennedy, a painter who runs Kennedy Promotions, a company based in Williamsburg that helps artists find ways to show off their talent. Works for the book were chosen by three judges, Kennedy included, from about 300 entries from artists across the state.

"We always thought artists were underexposed and under-appreciated," Kennedy said.

She said the company is working to produce similar books in New York, North Carolina and Pennsylvania and hopes to continue expanding the project. The Virginia book, which will cost about $20 or $25, will be sold by Barnes & Noble, on and in some locally owned bookstores, she said.

In a time when there is an increasing emphasis on standardized tests and the federal No Child Left Behind law in classrooms, all four teachers said the personal recognition draws attention to school art programs that encourage creativity and provide a break from the stress of the day. Each teacher incorporates culture, math and history into lessons. But all say art class is about stretching your imagination and trying new things.

Wimberly, a Fairfax County teacher for 16 years, has a license plate that says "Arteezt." She said she requires her students to sketch in pen "just so they get comfortable making mistakes."

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