Maplewood student artists collaborate with Harvard class on book project

by Mike Mitchell, art teacher at Maplewood High School On two days in October and November of 2014 my Art 2 class did something that is increasingly more common in public school classrooms: they Skyped with another class to collaborate on a project. What’s not so common in most classes: it was a college class – and Harvard to boot.

Virginia Overton grew up on a farm in Lebanon, TN, and received her M.F.A. in sculpture from the University of Memphis. We were studio mates in the sculpture program and have stayed in touch throughout the years. Last semester (Fall 2014), she was a visiting Lecturer on Visual and Environmental Studies at Harvard. She and I talked about how interesting a collaboration would be between her sculpture students at Harvard and my art students at Maplewood High School. She was using rubbings as a departure point for her students to make sculptures and suggested my students make some rubbings as well.

She insisted on sending each of my 27 Maplewood students the same art crayons and roll of painter’s tape her students were using. We decided to have our classes Skype before and after the students made their work to get to know each other a little better.

Harvard MHS Skype 2014On October 23, 2014, all of my students sat down in front of a laptop one at a time and introduced themselves to her students who were projected on the screen in our classroom, and then her Harvard students introduced themselves one at a time to us. It was amazing to see how excited both groups of students were to meet each other using technology from hundreds of miles away, different stages of their educational journey and at different types of institutions.

Once the students at MHS finished making our rubbings they Skyped again on November 18th with their Harvard counterparts. The students discussed each other’s work and the process of making it. My student’s faces lit up when students from Harvard commented on how cool their work was. After our second skype session we sent all of our rubbings to professor Overton and her students copied and assembled their work along with MHS students’ work and bound them in a book.

In December one book for each of my students arrived in the mail. My students were very proud to see their work and their names alongside students’ names and work from Harvard University. Upon review, the book of rubbings one student in my class said, “Mr. Mitchell our work looks just as good as their work!”

“What do you make of that?” I asked.

“That we are just as good as they are?” she offered hesitantly. I couldn’t agree more!

Varis Harvard MHS Book 2014Aniya Eboni Rickel Harvard books 2014

Virginia Overton lives in Brooklyn, NY, and currently has a one person exhibit at The White Cube Gallery in London – arguably one of the most important galleries in the world for contemporary art. We are so appreciative at Maplewood High School for her generosity with art materials, shipping cost, her time and her collaborative spirit.