Students, Bromeliad Society join together for art project

By Gary Alan Ruse….

Showing their artwork are (l-r) Ziqi Wang, Dani Gross, Amber Plaksin, Sidney Morris, Alex Lopez, Laura Fraginals, Carl Gallo, Sofia Giambarba, Javier Ferrer, Emily Gross, Natalie Molina and Emma Gonzalez.

Some 150 students in Southwood Middle School’s magnet art program joined forces with the Bromeliad Society of South Florida and Fairchild Tropical Botanic Garden, adding their artwork to a special exhibit that took place on the weekend of Apr. 16 and 17.

Sharon Biddix-Maessen of the Bromeliad Society, a retired art teacher, brought student art into the annual show in 2001.

“When I started doing the art show with the Society they didn’t have student artwork, but because the plants are so fantastic in their variety and their beauty, it had turned into such an educational opportunity,” Biddix-Maessen said.

“It really dovetails perfectly with the arts to have the student art showcase as part of the annual show. Southwood has been a part of this for about eight years. They’ve done a phenomenal job of including the study of bromeliads in their curriculum.”

The society provides plants to the classes for the students to see as tangible, living three-dimensional objects instead of just looking at photos. It gives the students a chance to study them from all angles, learn more and really “bond” with the plants.

“For the people to come into the bromeli-ad show at Fairchild and see all of the prizewinning plants in the garden room auditorium, and then see this fabulous artwork,” Biddix-Maessen said. “The student artwork is just as wonderful as the adult artwork. The interpretation is incredible.”

The artwork is judged by a panel of art and photography experts and crystal awards are given to the works selected. For the students it’s something different and enjoyable.

Eighth grade student Sidney Morris said she was glad to participate in it again.

“In sixth grade we did a practice and in seventh grade we also did a practice, so this is the first time it’s actually for real,” Morris said. “With the bromeliads we can get a different feel of our emotions in it and we can put it into the colors.”

Emily Gross, also in the eighth grade, found it educational beyond the art.

“We learned a lot about how you take care of them and how they grow,” she said. “It makes you look at them more thoroughly.”

Amber Plaksin was intrigued by the transformation from reality to art.

“When I draw them I like to see the growth of the bromeliads and how they grow into the paintings,” she said.

Alexandra Lopez agreed with the others about it being a good learning process.

“We’re working with watercolors now, but in the past we’ve used pastels and acrylics,” Lopez said. “It definitely makes me more interested in bromeliads. I know more about them and the way that they grow and more information about them. It makes me feel proud that we have work there at Fairchild.”

Magnet art teacher Leslie McKinley said that it is about a three- to four-week project for the students, in multiple classes.

“For this project we have all grade levels involved, with a variety of media,” McKinley said. “It’s all focusing on the same subject matter, but you can see the progress the students make as they advance.”

Sixth grade classes are using tempera paint and colored pencils. Seventh graders are working with oil pastels and regular pastels, and eighth grade students are creating art with watercolors, scratchboard and art sticks.

Southwood magnet art teacher Jenifer Berse and her students also are involved with the project.

McKinley thinks it is good cross-pollination between different elements in the community that brings more people together.

“It also forges a great connection with a wonderful world-class venue in our community that the kids might otherwise not be as aware of, nor their families,” McKinley said. “It gets them to go back to Fairchild and I think it results in an appreciation for plants that kids this age might not have. I think it has made them appreciate where they live in South Florida and a lot of the natural beauty that surrounds them.”

Fairchild Gardens provided 70 free family passes so that students and their families could see the exhibit.

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