06/01/2011 at 9:24 am 4 comments

Read Pt. 1 here.
Read Pt. 2 here.

About a week after my teaching tenure ended, the school held an Awards Assembly for the students. A few days prior, a panel of judges came in and selected their favorites from the more than 400 pieces hanging. The panel included working artists, a husband and wife childrens’ book artist/author team, an art professor, a gallery owner (I think), and Ella— the little girl who collaborated with me on an art show called dwella vs. ella years ago.

The assembly was my first time seeing the kids since I left, and apparently, they missed me. I walked into the auditorium, and suddenly had over 400 students eagerly waving their arms to me, whisper-shouting “Hi, dwellephant!” or “Hi, MR. dwellephant!” (Which is what they called me for the most part.) Seeing all their happy faces, happy to see me? Easily one of the greatest feelings ever.

I had no hand in selecting the winners. I couldn’t. Choosing one over another would have hurt some feelings, for sure. I will say that I did my best while teaching to assure them that NOT winning a prize doesn’t mean their art wasn’t good.

When the prizes were all handed out, (including the ones I custom-made for them) the kids then presented me with a few surprise gifts. The first was a piece of my art, recreated on a ceramic tray, courtesy of the magicians over at Glaze. The front featured an old illustration of mine, and the back was inscribed, “Oriole Lane Elementary School • Gallery Night • May 03, 2011” so I would never forget:

The second surprise gift almost made my heart burst. Five or six kids approached with a giant roll of paper. And unrolling it revealed a gigantic banner reading, ” Thank you, dwellephant!” But beneath those letters, on the chunks of brown paper you see, were messages from each and every kid. Some serious. Some hilarious. All awesome. And knowing I liked art that was smudged, dirty and imperfect, they cut the paper up, stepped on it, spilled stuff on it, and reassembled it randomly. It’s perfectly imperfect, and currently sits in my studio, waiting for the day I own walls long enough to hang it on:

Later that evening, I returned to the school for its Gallery Night. The school would open for parents and friends to come in and see the beautiful stuff their kids made over the course of my two weeks with them. The newly opened Pick N Save Metro Market in Mequon donated cupcakes and beverages for the evening. The lovely Dori Zori DJ’d the entire affair. The Milwaukee Art Museum even graciously sent their Kohl’s Color Wheel out to keep the kids busy, though most of them seemed to need no distractions, because there were two pretty big ones smack dab in the middle of the hallway.

The first was my friend Daniel from Boswell Books, selling copies of the kids’ book I illustrated, Missing The Boat:

Typically, being around to sign books means I also draw in them. And once the kids realized this, they made it their collective mission to try and stump me. I wound up drawing everything from an alligator backflipping off a trampline under water with a shark coming towards him, to something as simple as two humans playing basketball. But man, did they put me to work. We even wound up extending Gallery  Night’s hours just so I could finish drawing in everyone’s copies. Students of Oriole Lane, you sent me home a tired man!

The other distraction was this floor-to-ceiling sheet of paper:

It was empty at the start of the night. And frankly, the only drawing I actually did on it was of three birds on a wire, which you can see up in the left-hand corner. The kids did the rest. How great is that?!? These kids are at a party, essentially to celebrate THEM, and all they wanted to do was DRAW. Sounds like me at their age.

A lot of the text wound up being messages to me, which, again, makes me feel beyond grateful. I only captured a few, to give you a general idea how awesome these kids are (to me, and in general):

I haven’t spoken to the kids since Gallery Night, so I have no idea if they loved it. The parents and teachers who helped this all happen assure me it was a wild success, which is all I wanted to hear. I wanted to make sure we celebrated these kids and the art they made in a way that will make all future Gallery Nights have to work a little harder. I wanted to make sure they left there thinking what they made, and what they make in the future, is something to get excited about. And I think this will.

One more post to go— part 4. I’ll be writing this one over the weekend, and posting it next week. Check back then, so we can wrap this all up nice and neatly!


Entry filed under: Commercial Work, Commission, Event. Tags: , , , , , , , , , , .


4 Comments Add your own

  • 1. doherty  |  06/02/2011 at 1:05 pm

    Hot damn that was a wonderful post. Actually made my day

    • 2. dwellephant  |  06/07/2011 at 10:10 am

      Thanks, man. Glad to know that.

  • 3. Joy  |  06/08/2011 at 8:38 pm

    this is so amazing, dwellie. i’m so proud of you and the impact you had on so many kids. encouraging their art voice like this—priceless—and i hope you have more opportunities like this in the future. you’re a pretty inspiring guy to be around. even for us big kids 😉

    • 4. dwellephant  |  06/09/2011 at 10:21 am

      Thanks, Joy. I’m really glad it worked in a positive way. I just need to keep it up, now.


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