Visiting artist encourages expressions of individuality

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Artist Wendy Struck talks to Rylee Lanz about her art.

Grade 2 students bring treasures to include in mixed media art project

A program that brings art to students may be free, but the reaction of those students is priceless.

Xanthe Isbister, program manager and curator of the Alberta Foundation for the Arts Travelling Exhibition Program in the Southeast Region, visited Jennie Emery Elementary this week with artist Wendy Struck. As Struck led four Grade 2 classes through the process of creating three-dimensional, mixed media art incorporating students’ own treasures from home, Isbister watched and marvelled at the uniqueness of each creation.

“They’ve all been so great,” she said, as the third class wrapped up their workshop. “It makes me so happy.”

Struck’s art is part of a travelling exhibit called “When We Were Young,” on display for a month in the elementary school’s library. As Struck explained, her art incorporates things that remind her of a childhood spent outdoors, riding bike and catching frogs. Her art at Jennie Emery included small 3D boxes, a Monopoly game piece, and even a forest that becomes evident if you look at the image with your head tilted just so.

For Grade 2 students, the concept of “When We Were Young” is elusive. After all, the students are likely no more than eight-years-old. Isbister says the concept of storytelling through art is still relatable, regardless of age.

In advance of Wednesday’s workshop, students were asked to bring in small items from home — a rock, feather or other small item of interest or sentimental value.

As Janet Ainscough’s Grade 2 class set to work on their own art pieces, the student’s individuality was on high display. At one table, a student had one earring, an elastic band and a fabric flower. At another was a Coca-Cola bottle cap, a penny and an odd-shaped piece of metal.

Student Lincoln Roszell said his items were a showcase of his favourite things: a Nerf dart, a Lego mini-figure and a rock.

“It’s so interesting,” Isbister says. “The pieces between the first two classes this morning have been so drastically different. . . How were those decisions made about what they’re going to bring to class?

“There’s an ingrained aesthetic that we all have in how we approach that creative expression.”

As a child, Isbister says school was often a struggle, but in art, she felt confident and positive about her abilities.

“I could do this and it wasn’t going to be wrong,” she says. “I’m sure there’s at least one student, maybe five, out of the 80 we’ll see today who will go on to be in a creative field.”

Travelling Exhibition Program is free and in demand

Both the travelling exhibit program and the visiting artist opportunities are free to schools. The demand, however, is high with 86 of 90 available exhibition slots booked within three days of the launch of next year’s program. The goal of the travelling exhibits is to make art available in rural communities which may not have a dedicated art gallery.

Isbister says the exhibits come with lesson plans to help students at various grade levels understand that “artwork isn’t just for display. It’s about the importance behind what visual art does in society.”

For more information on the Travelling Exhibition program, please visit To learn more about Struck’s art, visit

Watch the story in video by "A Public Education." The program is co-sponsored by Palliser Alberta Teachers' Association Local 19 and other partners.