Tuesday, November 12, 2013

'Superstorm Sandy - One Year later': Emotions emerge in art at student show in Stafford Twp.

Photo by Ryan Morrill
Superstorm Sandy – One Year
Later” art show gives childrens'
perspective.
Pictures of fallen trees toppled over houses and raging ocean waves littered with debris drawn by Stafford Intermediate School’s fifth- and sixth-grade students dotted the halls of the Stafford Township Arts Center during the school’s “Superstorm Sandy – One Year Later” art show, held Wednesday, Oct. 30. The exhibit incorporated nearly 700 pieces of artwork – one for every student who attends the school. The mixed media and literary work projects, grouped together and displayed on dune fencing donated by Long Beach Township officials, recounted the storm from the perspective of the area’s youth.
“The artwork is so precious, and it really gets to you to see one extreme to another, from one kid writing that he couldn’t play video games, to somebody who completely lost everything. Kids are innocent, and it’s their innocent interpretation of how (the storm) affected them,” said Marybeth Weidenhof, STAC’s community school manager. “It was emotional for me, to tell you the truth. I wasn’t prepared for it to be that way. But after going along and reading and reading and reading, there’s no way it doesn’t get to you because that’s where it’s coming from, an innocent place in these kids.”
The exhibit was sponsored through a grant from the Monmouth Art Helps Fund, a joint effort among local and national foundations, New Jersey corporations and individuals to support local nonprofit organizations working in communities affected by Sandy. The grant was obtained by the Pines Shore Art Association, members of which volunteered to help prepare the students’ artwork for display.
The children also contributed storm-related photos and relics to a giant fiberglass clam from the Rutgers University Cooperative Extension, which will stay at STAC and be added to ReClam the Bay’s Clam Trail.
Photo by Ryan Morrill
Stafford Township students
contribute relics to giant clam.
“I wanted to make sure we included every student because you never know who would need to reflect on this one year later,” said Intermediate School art teacher Jessica Gomez. “The results were very interesting. There was such strong emotion. I was surprised,” she added.
Though kids sometimes have a hard time expressing their thoughts in art form, Gomez said, all of the students seemed to know exactly what they wanted to say about the storm. Each student wrote down his or her idea in the form of a paragraph, poem, or phrase and later created an illustration to interpret those feelings.
While sleeping in and playing games were at the top of the list, many of the projects painted a frightening picture from power outages and flooding to high winds and even death. But many also gave tribute to the more sentimental part of the storm, from hunkering down and eating canned vegetables with family to inviting friends and neighbors over to share the use of a generator. Others remained positive and hopeful of the future. Drawings of Jetty’s relief efforts as well as the first responders appeared in many of the projects.
“The kids seem to be more scared when they think about the storm, when they think about the sound of the wind and the rain,” said Gomez. “When you’re younger, that’s what’s scary to you. It’s a much smaller world. When you’re older, you’re wondering what you’re going to lose and what you’re going to have to rebuild. The kids just want to get through it.
“Some students were almost thankful for the storm,” she added. “They wrote things like ‘This is the most time I’ve ever spent with my family.’ A lot of them actually became closer with their families. You could see the pure glee in their drawings.”
Working on the project also gave the students a chance to reflect on the storm and share their experiences with one another. Speaking about their feelings brought the kids together, helping them to bond, Gomez noticed. Though the discussions sometimes caused tears, the students were very supportive of one another, she said.
“Having the artwork there, having that one concrete thing in front of them, maybe helped keep them from completely breaking down, like a little life preserver,” said Gomez. “They were focused on making it the best drawing they could and adding the right colors and making you feel the same emotion they did. That’s the coolest part. Most artists spend their whole life trying to make things that express how they feel and then get people to react to it with their feelings. (The students) all accomplished that, and that’s just so amazing.”
Hundreds of community residents came out to view the artwork throughout the night. Many considered the projects to be “very emotional” and expressed gratitude for being given an opportunity to be open about their feelings surrounding the storm.
“I think people were expecting it to be like a regular art show where you go in, you find your kid’s piece, and you take a picture and you leave. People just got sucked in,” said Gomez. “It was almost like the whole thing was like a wave. It kept people engrossed, and every time they read one (project), they saw something else they wanted to read, and then they saw an image and wanted to read the one that went with that. People spent a lot of time, which you don’t normally see at art shows. They took the time to investigate what was there, and I heard people on the phone telling other people to come down,” she explained.
The “Superstorm Sandy – One Year Later” art exhibit will be on display at STAC through November. Weidenhof said she hopes to create a book of the artwork to help raise money for a local charity.

–Kelley Anne Essinger


This article was published in The SandPaper.