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“It’s the very first thing you learn about God back in Genesis—that He is a creator, an artist who finds His creation, His artistry, and handiwork good, even “very good.”

So it would follow that a Christian school would also highly value art classes and teaching the visual arts, if we are learning to live and walk in His image? To imitate all that He is?

“Art is…an important part of our faith because it serves as a protest to modern pragmatism, which is an alluring trait of the cultural pool that we swim in today,” adds HCHS principal Miles Colago. “Art is and has been essential to Christian life for the last two millennia because it speaks to the image-bearer’s experience no matter the circumstance, serving as a testament of not what is, but what ought to be in light of the Kingdom of God.”

We are grateful here at Holland Christian for the amazing visual art teachers we get to work with—five people particularly blessed with God’s ability to create, and to coax that godly imitation out of a classroom full of kindergartners, or teenagers—and every age between.

Jenny Geuder smiling at the cameraHCMS art teacher Jenny Gueder enjoys teaching all middle school students, but particularly relishes the 8th grade printmaking project, where students research an endangered species, carve out a stamp of the animal, and then play with colors in stamping the animal image—think Andy Warhol style.

“Printmaking in 8th grade is one of those few projects I do that has them look outside themselves. They get to make lots of personal choices and it checks off all the boxes of fun, right? Because it’s bright colors, it’s messy, colorful,” Jenny explained. “They get to carve a stamp, which is a subtractive method, which is really fun and different than normal. But more than that the project is about caring and bringing awareness to this endangered species. You learn about the history of printmaking—we look at art from Japan,  printmaking there…some of the early printmakers here in America, pop art from Andy Warhol.”

Students learn about a particular project by Andy Warhol when he was asked to partner with the World Wildlife Foundation on an endangered species project, and the sales from those posters went toward conservation. “It was this really cool intersection of art and conservation and care,” Jenny said. “Some [students] have never even heard of these species—some of them are shocked—and I think that’s a powerful part of this project…God made our system like a web and it’s so perfectly put together that if something is removed, what is our responsibility in a broken world? So that is what this project is about—nudging that needle toward awareness. In the end, what is the role of Christian artist, and how can one teenager make any difference? It’s just a beautiful project—it’s fun!”

Heidi Camp smiling at the cameraOne of HCHS art teacher Heidi Camp‘s favorite lessons to teach in high school art is the creation of ceramic teapots. “The technical functions were quite simple: the teapot had to use slab construction, incorporate texture in some way. It needed to have a handle, lid, and spout without using all right angles,” she said. But “their artistic challenge was a bit more complex: How can you invite the viewer to see the form of the teapot in a new way? What do you do with these requirements to create a vessel form that moves beyond our typical sense of teapot?  How is negative space an integral part of your piece?” And they were also asked to think about hospitality with this teapot: “What makes a space inviting and warm? A vessel holds things.  What are you filling your life with? What are you feeling called to hold? What is the Spirit asking you to fill in your life? What is God asking you to hold onto and then offer to others?”

The variety of teapot student creations are truly amazing, especially Eden McGee ’24‘s and James Appledorn ’24‘s, where you see the intense design and thought process that go into them: “I originally drew my design with the intent of a sort of ‘tree’ theme,” Eden shared. “I knew that I wanted birds somewhere on it and chose the White Breasted NutHatch to build the colors off of. In my choice of main glaze I ended up with a deeper blue than I thought it would turn out to be, but it gave it more of a bold look in the end.”

Camp points out that she really is teaching problem solving through art. “What do you do when you don’t like something, when it doesn’t turn out? How do you fix that?” as well as “grit. I’m really trying to teach grit to these students,” she said, pointing out how that can be displayed in students with an attention to detail—like James VanAppledorn in his willingness to sand his teapot again and again—and again: “He used a bowl to mold the clay he rolled into a slab. He then meticulously smoothed and sanded the artwork both prior to it being fired and afterward,” Camp said. “His careful craftsmanship is evidenced in shape, glazing, sturdiness (evidence of score & slip), and aesthetic design.”

Eliot Slenk smiling at cameraElliot Slenk ’04 has taught graphic design at HCHS for 13 years, and one of his favorite assignments to teach is the “Walk for Warmth” poster competition that his students enter every year, and have won seven times: “The project itself is good because it is for an authentic audience and students get the chance to use what they have learned in class to help bring attention to a population in need,” Elliott shared.

His students agree: “The project that had the most meaning behind it this year was the Walk for Warmth Poster,” Gavin VanderZwaag ’24 wrote. “It was very cool knowing that my work that I was doing was for a good cause. It was a great feeling knowing that I was making a project that could help raise money for people who cannot afford to pay their utility bills. This relates directly towards God’s calling as a Christians because we are called to bless others and spread God’s love through the world. This drove me to do the best work that I could do,” he finished.

Alison Spoelhof smiling at cameraAllison Spoelhof, in her second year of teaching elementary art at Pine Ridge, South Side, and Forest School, teaches not only one of the largest age differences as an HC art teacher—from 5-12 year olds, but also moves between campuses! One of her favorite art assignments to teach is painting poinsettias at the beginning of December, when 4th grade students learn about Georgia O’Keefe and her nature closeups, like her Red Poppy VI, 1928 that students’ artwork is patterned after, but also the history of the poinsettia, its use and its poignant symbolism at Christmas—how this native Mexican bush came to be sold in American grocery stores at Christmas time.Through the poinsettia assignment, fifth graders learn to paint with a variety of paintbrushes for more varied strokes, how to mix colors and then shade with varied color combinations from the center of the red leaves to the outer edges.

“I’m more of a process gal than product, personally,” Allison said, explaining how she emphasizes that students learn and grow by investing in the process, rather than end with a perfect looking poinsettia. “And we learn about good blending—and talk about how that’s a good life skill—blending in the right direction!”

Amy Luce smiling at the camera.One of Rose Park/HC2 art teacher Amy Luce’s favorite assignments to teach is a kindergarten rendition of Navajo rug weaving using cutting, gluing, and pattern making with strips of construction paper. Amy explains who Navajos are, and then “introduces” them to Christian Navajo artist Elmer Yazzie, while also teaching them pattern making, and how Elmer uses his art to tell his people about Jesus. Kindergartners learn about the process of raising and shearing sheep, then carding and hand spinning wool.

“Today it’s pretty rare to see the entire process in one community, and the kids enjoy learning about it,” Amy said, explaining that students then look closely at the designs of traditional Navajo rugs, and then create their own on paper. “They print with found objects such as old spools of thread and legos on paper.” After students look for Christian symbols in Elmer Yazzie’s art, they ponder “‘How could you use art to tell others about Jesus?’ The last thing we do is glue a cross on top of our weaving to help us remember how art gives us an opportunity to share God’s story with others,” Amy said.

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