New Brunswick

Art teacher issues middle school portrait challenge

Students and teachers may not be in the classroom, but they are still learning. A challenge by a Riverview Middle School teacher has turned out to be a fun way to learn, and to connect.

At home during the pandemic, Wanda Dorris has been inspired by creative, smart Grade 7 student

Grade 7 student Anna Stocker re-created this portrait from 1907 with the help of her mother after receiving a challenge from her art teacher, Wanda Dorris. (Submitted by Wanda Dorris)

For Anna Stocker, a Grade 7 student at Riverview Middle School, the days have been long since schools in New Brunswick were closed six weeks ago.

"I'm keeping busy but I'm still bored a lot," she said from her home.

Even though she isn't in the classroom, she is still in contact with her teachers and earlier this month, her art teacher Wanda Dorris issued a portrait challenge.

The idea is to re-create a famous piece of art using things you have around the house, and take a photo of it.

Anna admits that when her mother suggested she try one, she "wasn't very enthusiastic" but that changed when Mrs. Dorris upped the ante.

"I told [Anna] that if she would do one that I would do one so that's how it started," Dorris laughed.

Creating art from sticky notes

Anna says she really wanted to see what her teacher would come up with, so she started looking for a portrait she could re-create.

She decided on a painting from 1907 by Austrian artist Gustav Klimt known as Portrait of Adele Bloch Bauer or The Lady in Gold.

A visitor at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art views Adele Bloch Bauer on April 4, 2006, in Los Angeles. (Ric Francis/The Associated Press)

"We were looking at all different pieces of art and saw this particular one and thought that we could use sticky notes for all the gold shapes," Anna said.

"I knew that we had all kinds of yellow sticky notes. So we decided on that one."

With help from her mother, Anna created the background and the dress. She then tucked her blonde hair under a black hat and used tin foil to create the jewlery Adele Bloch Bauer is wearing in the portrait.

"It was kind of fun to be sitting there while all the sticky notes are around me and positioning myself."

As fun as it was re-creating the painting, for Anna the best part of the challenge came when Mrs. Dorris sent her re-creation a few days later.

Portrait includes 'nod' to Anna

Dorris wasn't sure Anna would do it, but when the photo of her re-creation arrived she knew it was "game on."

"I thought her final piece was amazing and so creative and she thought outside of the box," Dorris said.

"She's quiet and shy but I think inside of her head she's always creating. You can tell that she's so smart."

Inspired by Anna's work, Dorris chose a portrait called Girl With A Black Eye, by Norman Rockwell that she thought would be do-able.

Wanda Dorris borrowed her husband's shoes and enlisted the help of her teenage daughters to re-create this Norman Rockwell portrait. (Submitted by Wanda Dorris)

"My daughter helped me find the clothes around the house, and I was wearing my husband's big shoes and we used eye makeup to create bruises on my face and on my knee — it was fun."

In the portrait, Dorris also included a special message for Anna. In the background she posted a piece of Anna's artwork as a nod to her student. 

"It's been a nice way to connect with students when we're not at school."

Anna says she thought her teacher's portrait was "pretty funny" and loved seeing her artwork in the background.

Portrait also a history lesson

Anna admits she is a perfectionist but says considering what she had to work with, she thinks her re-creation turned out pretty well.

Art is important in our life and it's a great outlet for everything that we're all feeling in this uncertain time.- Wanda Dorris, Riverview Middle School teacher

"Obviously it's not perfect because it's sticky notes that have drawings on them but I still think it looks pretty good.

The challenge also turned out to be a history lesson as Anna learned more about the painting itself, which was commissioned in 1903 by a Jewish banker.

"It was stolen by the Nazi's in 1941 and returned to the descendants in 2006 and then it was sold for $135 million."

Dorris says the most difficult part of being a teacher right now is trying to find ways to help her students and to support their learning.

"I miss the daily conversations and contact with my students and I do miss that whole environment of being with them at school," she said.

Dorris hopes this project is an example of how important art is, especially when people are home and looking for an outlet to express themselves.

"I really hope that she takes away this whole idea that art is important in our life and it's a great outlet for everything that we're all feeling in this uncertain time."

About the Author

Vanessa Blanch is a reporter based in Moncton. She has worked across the country for CBC for 20 years. If you have story ideas to share please email: vanessa.blanch@cbc.ca

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