Life’s blank canvas filled with opportunities

MIDDLEBURG – Midd-West High School art students are finding there is an open canvas of opportunity in the world of art careers.

Tracey Mitchell’s Advanced Art class was visited by an artist in residence this spring who created a mural with the students. Jon Laidacker, of Philadelphia, spent 10 days in Mitchell’s classroom as part of the residency program offered by Perry County Council of the Arts. The program was funded by a donor, Middleswarth chip plant in Middleburg, as well as a grant through the Snyder County School Retirees.

The $800 residency was paid in full through the help of these two sources with $200 left to go toward a future residency, Mitchell said.

The mural, measuring 4 feet tall by 8 feet long, is tacked to a wall in Mitchell’s classroom. It has yet to be glued to a permanent background that will be mobilized for viewing at different locations throughout the school at different times.

Mitchell said the residency program was an eye-opener for many students.

“The kids here do not have access to a real-life artist while he is applying his art skills,” she noted.

The residency with Laidacker “showed them it’s possible to have a career in this kind of art,” she said, pointing out that Laidacker is part of the Philadelphia Mural and Arts program and much of his work is featured on billboards and buildings “all over Philadelphia.”

As many as 20 students in grades eight through 12 worked on the mural, which features a farm-type scene with mountainous landscape and a portrait of one of Laidacker’s helpers painting the scene off to the side.

Even students who did not work on the project were intrigued and peppered Mitchell with questions, she said.

A core group of about seven students spent the most time on the project, including three future art majors. Seniors Leanna Derstein, Taylor Kreamer and Mikayla Freed spent as much as two to three hours per school day helping Laidacker.

The artist developed squares on the piece with number-coded colors for the students to fill in the under-painting. “I really liked the paint by numbers technique. He was a good teacher,” Freed said.

Kreamer said working on a background so large was exciting for her. All three of the girls said painting is their strength in art.

Kreamer and Derstein are attending Kutztown University in the fall, and Freed will take art classes at Millersville University.

“(The residency) is good for them,” Mitchell said of her advanced art students who want to further their studies in the field. “It gives them new exposure to new types of art. We’ll hopefully try doing something next year.”