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Home » News » Art and Art Education Alums Make Headlines with Creative Online Curriculum

Art and Art Education Alums Make Headlines with Creative Online Curriculum

Published July 10, 2020
Excerpts courtesy of the Tallahassee Democrat, by Amanda Karioth Thompson

College of Fine Arts alums are making local news! Art teachers have had to adjust to distance learning, and these graduates from the Department of Art and Department of Art Education have adapted remarkably well. Victoria Mendenhall (BA Studio Art 2016, MS Art Education 2016), Billy Penn (BS Art Education 2002), Heather Clark (BS Studio Art 2007), and Angela Merchan (BFA Studio Art 2016) were all featured in individual stories in the Tallahassee Democrat.

Gilchrist art teacher Victoria Mendenhall guides a student in painting. Amanda Thompson

Victoria Mendenhall (BA Studio Art 2016, MS Art Education 2016), art teacher at Gilchrist Elementary, was featured on June 23 for her online art exhibition. Originally planned as an on-site exhibition featuring artwork from all 920 students at Gilchrist, Mendenhall had to adapt quickly once schools were closed. She took it upon herself to photograph and upload all of her students’ hard work to the school website.

For Mendenhall, it’s the kids that make Gilchrist special and she has seen a whole new side to them since the pandemic.

I learned that my students are so resilient. They are succeeding in a time that is completely unprecedented, making beautiful works with what they have at home.

Second-grade students were encouraged to think about elements of art including pattern and line while practicing a resist painting technique for the background. Because students had a wide variety of materials to choose from, the resulting artworks are unique and highlight the students’ own personal taste and aesthetic preferences.

Fourth-graders were tasked with creating portraits inspired by Sandra Silberzweig, a contemporary Canadian painter. Silberzweig has a neurological condition called synesthesia where the stimulation of one sense activates another unrelated sense. In Silberzweig’s case, visual art is processed in her mind’s eye, then experienced on all sensory levels; sound, sight, touch, smell, and taste. She is attracted to colorful images and Mendenhall challenged her students to make bold color choices in their portraits.

Read the full story here and view the online exhibit here.

Billy Penn, special to the Tallahassee Democrat


Billy Penn (BS Art Education 2002) was also featured in a June 30 story. The art teacher for Killearn Lakes Elementary, he moved his lessons to YouTube during quarantine, calling them (co)VIDeos. Each video showcases Penn’s progress on a new school mural and introduces a different art activity. The videos also include a pro-tip, a bonus points segment, and clever reminders on how to stay safe and help out during the pandemic.

First grader Aasr Abdelfatteh created a Matisse-like collage while sheltering in place. Special to the Tallahassee Democrat

The (co)VIDeos asked second and third graders to explore Egyptian art while fourth and fifth graders designed a personal seal inspired by the state of Florida’s.

Kindergarteners and first graders learned how to create collages in the style of Henri Matisse. Penn reminded them to use “any scrap paper you have, old magazines or grocery labels from your recycle bin. You can cut that up and glue it together.”

Henri Matisse is an especially good artist to study during quarantine because he was often housebound due to ill health.

There’s a picture floating around of Matisse stuck in bed. He’s got a 10-foot pole and he’s drawing on the wall from his bed. He wouldn’t let a silly thing like a quarantine stop him from making art.

Read the full story here and explore his YouTube channel here.


Heather Clark, special to the Tallahassee Democrat

In a June 2 article, Heather Clark (BS Studio Art 2002), art teacher at Fort Braden School, was featured for her “Quaranthings” digital self-portrait project.

Based on the work of photographer Gregg Segal, “Quaranthings” asks students to pose with the objects they consider most important to get them through quarantine and distance learning. While Clark encouraged participants to think about art elements like radial symmetry when composing their photo, her main motivation was to get them inspired to connect and share with each other.

I hoped they would think about not just making an interesting picture but reflect on what they have been going through,” Clark said. “I hoped they would find some joy in sharing a little of their experience with their classmates and that doing this project helped them to feel connected in some way.

Read the full story here.

A salt dough bird sculpture from one of Angela Merchan’s students. Special to the Tallahassee Democrat

Angela Merchan (BFA Studio Art 2016), art teacher at Pineview Elementary featured in a June 9 story, had to rearrange her idea for a unit on clay art when local schools closed for social distancing.

She pivoted to salt dough, which can be made at home with commonly found ingredients and dries without a kiln. Students measured, mixed, shaped, and decorated their salt dough creations at home thanks to Angela’s quick thinking.

Many of Merchan’s students were so engrossed in the lesson that she provided extension activities and additional online resources to keep the creativity flowing. One of the things Merchan has learned in moving to online instruction is

I have to get out of my comfort zone to connect with my students better and capture their interest. In some cases that might mean making myself available for video calls, recording lessons to be shared on social media or even opening a TikTok account. These things don’t come naturally to me, but they are a great tool to reach our students, particularly now that we are teaching from a distance.

Read the full story here.

All articles appeared as part of COCA’s Creativity Persists collection, highlighting how area arts educators have used distance learning to teach and inspire during the COVID-19 pandemic. Amanda Karioth Thompson is the Assistant Director for the Council on Culture & Arts. COCA is the capital area’s umbrella agency for arts and culture (