Students learning to tell 'stories' with art

WPHS art students watch as teacher Sabrina Campbell demonstrates but art and story-telling techniques on a piece about singer Josephine Baker.
Staff Writer

If a picture is worth a thousand words, then art is a story on canvas. At least that is what art students at West Point High School are learning.

Their spring project is to  pick someone who made a difference in civil rights, civil discourse, or race relations locally, regionally or nationally, research their lives and design an art piece that tells their story.

While students are still in the research phase, they also are learning and practicing the art techniques they'll need to make what now is just taking shape in their minds into a piece of art.
At the same time, they are learning some lessons they may not even realize.

"She was the first to go to an all-white school. She opened the door for more little girls to go to school and get an education. She is one of the reasons I am in school, that we have the resources we do," freshman Anthony Hayes said of Ruby Bridges, the focus of his project.

In 1960, as a 6-year-old, she was the first African-American child to go to all-white William Frantz Elementary School in New Orleans. She was born in Tylertown, Mississippi, and the family moved to New Orleans when she was 4. At age 6, she was one of six African-American children who passed a test to be able to go to the white school but she is the only one who went to Frantz.

She was escorted to and from school each day by U.S. Marshals. Only one white educator would teach her and for the entire year, the teacher, Barbara Henry, taught her as if they were in a room full of children.

Her family suffered in numerous ways, too.

"There's a lot to learn from her story, one of those people who made a difference that you don't even think about," Hayes said.

Other students stayed close to home for inspiration, but still had no trouble finding it, even if it came in different forms.

"He was an educator, he tried to help everyone get their education, achieve their dreams, it didn't matter who or what they were," freshman Brittney Ewings said of her subject, Charles Cliett Sr., a Clay County native from the Montpelier community who died Nov. 30, 2010 at the age of 86.

A veteran of the U.S. Navy during World War II, he taught briefly at West Point High before becoming a professor at Mississippi State. He was head of the Aerospace Engineering Department during its pioneering days from 1960 to 1991.

"He could and would teach anyone...and taught them to keep reaching for their dreams," Ewings said of Cliett, who was inducted into the West Point Wall of Fame in 1991.

Likewise, Jamia Oats looked close to home, picking Air Force Gen. Paul V. Hester, who began his military career during the Vietnam War and throughout it helped bridge racial divides that still simmered in the military and elsewhere.

Hester retired in 2007 after 37 years in the Air Force.

"That's the approach we still have to take today. No one should be treated differently," Oats said of Hester, who was named to the Wall of Fame in 2003.

"He knew what he wanted and worked hard for it. If you stand up for beliefs and what you want to achieve, you can do it," Oats said of what she has learned during early research of the West Point native who went to Ole Miss and earned his pilot wings at Columbus Air Force Base.

As an example for the class, their teacher, Sabrina Campbell, has been working on a project on musician and dancer Josephine Baker in which she incorporates a portrait of the talented singer with dance shoes, ragged tennis shoes to illustrate her poverty, a microphone and images from the French Resistance that Baker assisted during World War II.

"It's all about telling a story. Letting the person look at the art work and knowing about the subject without ever reading a word. Sometimes it's subtle, but the message comes through," Campbell told the students, who soon will start working on their own sketches.