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Imagevic
Oct 26, 2016 12:14 PM CST
Name: Vicki
North Carolina
Upon first moving to western KY, I taught in the newly built county high school, but then after my children were born, I stayed home with them until they were ready for school themselves. When I returned to teaching, I chose to go to the middle school, it was closer to my home. I'd never taught middle school, but I loved it and had some wonderful students. One year I had several amazing male students, very creative, artistic, and highly intelligent. I had them in my art classes for their 6th, 7th and 8th grades, then I was asked to return to the high school, back to my former classroom. Since those wonderful young men would be following me there to start their years as HS students, it was a win/win situation for me. I would have them again as art and humanities students. So I went back to teach at the high school.

When that class of boys became seniors, my department had created presentations that included all levels of study and all subjects. During the spring we had a fair. The year of daVinci, the theme of the fair was the Renaissance, and each subject area was to create a presentation telling of the events/inventions/creations pertaining to that subject...covering whatever occurred during the Renaissance. We had this fair every year, and covered different time periods. So...

My class of boys decided to create an updated version of daVinci's painting of the Last Supper. We had learned that during the Renaissance, artists used each other as models most of the time, and the new emphasis in art was the study of perspective and proportion. My boys were a group of 17, still yet all equally talented, creative and hightly intelligent. They were dream students, and I'd taught them for 6 years. They planned to recreate the Last Supper using themselves as models for the disciples and for Jesus. One of them, Nick, had long dark hair, he was tall and thin and the class voted and chose Nick to be in the position of Jesus. The other 16 chose to be whomever they wanted, and of course there were only 12 disciples in the original painting, so we had 4 left over.

The background was to be our classroom, including the windows and the chalk and bulletin boards, and one of the art tables was to serve as the table in the painting. The extra students decided to place themselves away from the table, looking out the windows, etc, but still all things in the original daVinci painting would be included. We debated about dress. They decided since they were painting themselves and each other, they'd dress in their current fashion. After all, it was an updated version of an old painting.

Now this you'll have to imagine...the painting was about 40' long and approximately 8' tall. We had to hang the canvas over the bulletin board that covered one wall. We left it unframed because it was so big. We would have to transport it by rolling it up. I had to order the canvas by yardage. It would be life sized.

I had a Polaroid camera for the classroom, so each student assumed his position, matching the actual painting as well as he could and I took a photo of each of them in that position. From the photo, he would paint his own portrait. They drew the background, checking for perfect perspective all the way. They copied the windows in the room, they copied the position of the table, but of course it was the art room they were painting. It was just painted in the style of the Renaissance. Then they drew themselves in place, spent some time painting the background, then were ready to start on their own portraits.

Our art room had an open door policy. It was across the hall from the cafeteria and it had two doors. When the school had visitors who wanted a tour, the administration always brought them to the art room, entering one door and walking through the room, observing what we were working on, and leaving by the other door. Same thing happened during the lunch hour, teachers would wander in and out of our classroom just to see the projects the kids were working on. Our school was large, and we ate in shifts, so the art class ate during the last shift, which meant people wandered in and out during the first hour while we were in class. If I were lecturing, I just kept the doors closed, otherwise we had lots of visitors on studio days.

The first few days we were painting the daVinci picture, we had visitors, but in its first stages the visitors couldn't tell what the painting was, all they knew was that it was for the Renaissance fair. But before very long, the painting took shape and most people recognized the positioning of the Last Supper.

This area of KY is in what is called the Bible Belt. Most here are good people and have a firm belief in the Bible as the word of God, our administrators in the school were definitely these kinds of people. When the painting began to take shape, I noticed a steady stream of teachers and administrators walking through the art room, eyeing the painting, not saying much.

After a few days, one of the vocational school teachers came into the room and made his way to my side. He asked if he could talk with me for a minute, so I stepped to the door with him. He said: "You can't let the kids do this! It's blasphemy!" I asked what he meant by blasphemy. He told me that it was blasphemous to use the student as a model for a picture of Jesus. Then he walked away.

I walked back into the classroom, and of course the boys wanted to know what he said and I told them. We gathered in a group, closed the doors, and revisited the Renaissance artists for awhile, talked about the time period, talked about the beliefs of the time and discussed just how paintings were done during that era. We came to some conclusions based on fact, then the boys continued with their painting.

It wasn't long before we were visited by two administrators, one woman and one man. The woman said to all of us: "You can't continue with this painting! It's blasphemous!"

I asked her what caused the painting to be considered a blasphemy. She said the same thing, we were using Nick in the painting to represent Jesus.

So I turned to the class, and I said: "Who can tell me the artist who painted the original Last Supper?"
Jonathan said: "Leonardo daVinci."
I asked: "And when did daVinci paint the Last Supper?"
Johnny said: "In the late1490's."
I asked: "And who did daVinci use as his model for Jesus?"
Nick said: "The artist, Raphael."
So I asked one more time: "When was the painting done?"
And the whole class answered: "The late 1490's."

So I turned back to the female admin, and I said to her: "Ms. J, do you really believe that Jesus came to pose for Leonardo daVinci in the late 1490's, and do you really believe he brought all his disciples to pose with him? Do you really think that daVinci actually painted a portrait of Jesus?"

Both admins just stood there, mouths open, then walked away. I closed the doors, and the kids, who had been silent, started applauding. I never heard another word about it, and the fair went on. After the fair was over, one of the local banks asked if the painting could be displayed in their lobby for awhile. It was. After school was out and the boys had graduated, we had one of the State Parks ask to display it in their community building. So the painting made the rounds that year. Everybody loved it. And I think the entire county could name every student in the painting. My boys had done excellent work!

The most interesting thing, the boys were also all in sports, Nick, Jonathan and several others played soccer, Johnny and one other played football, and if I remember I had a couple of basketball and baseball players, too. And they were amazing artists!

My boys graduated, 10 went on to college and are now in various professional positions. Nick teaches in London at the Oxford College of Architecture, studied there and remained. Jonathan is a big deal business manager in Nashville, and Johnny took my place as art teacher when I retired. He still has the rolled up canvas of our Renaissance painting in our old classroom, he uses it whenever he teaches the Renaissance. He studied art at SIU, got his masters there, I think. He also is one of the football coaches. The other boys are doing well, I keep in touch with most of them. They are in their early 30's now, some with families of their own.

That was a little bit of a battle that together we handled well. I didn't mean to hurt anybody's feelings, but I knew my boys and they knew me. Together we knew the facts about the Renaissance, too. I guess it could have gone either way, but we weren't in the least defiant, I knew the kids well enough to know they wouldn't be. That might have been my favorite year of teaching, but I can also remember others that were good as well.

So that's my daVinci story. The original painting is below.
And to all a Good Night.
Sure is cold here!

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