The first visual art project in the six-year history of Kloefkorn Elementary School would make its namesake proud.
A 6-foot-by-6-foot masterpiece patterned after the Nebraska by Heart statewide project is showcased at the southeast Lincoln school named after Lincoln-based poet and educator William (“Bill”) Kloefkorn.
Initially conceived in the fall of 2017 and completed during the final days of the school year, the project illustrates what can happen when the artistic flair of creative, open-minded leaders is blended with the youthful exuberance of 500 children. Each student had a hand – or, shall we say, two hands? – in designing thumbnail sketches that fill every square inch of the exhibit.
“It was truly a hands-on project,” said Lincoln artist extraordinaire Liz Shea-McCoy, who coordinated the Nebraska By Heart project, which created heart-shaped sculptures that now beautify 89 locations throughout Nebraska. The project was designed as part of the state’s sesquicentennial celebration in 2017.
How it all began
Susan Stibal, the project facilitator and chairman of the Kloefkorn PTO box top collection drive, said the school managed to collect $1,700 – that’s 17,000 General Mills box tops at 10 cents each – to bring an artist-in-residence to the elementary school. Stibal said the effort was a year’s accumulation of box tops, fueled by classroom competitions that offered prizes and parties for the top-performing classrooms.
Seeking a heartfelt remembrance that would serve as a permanent fixture at the school, three creative minds – Kloefkorn School Principal Polly Bowhay, the school’s art specialist Scott Fischer, and Shea-McCoy – gathered last fall and brainstormed about constructing a permanent exhibit.
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“We reviewed the list of artists available and thought Liz would be the perfect person, considering what she’s done with public art projects,” said Bowhay. Shea-McCoy has been an artist-in-residence since 1990 and has engineered public art projects since 2001.
The project at Kloefkorn Elementary got a huge financial boost in the form of a 6-foot heart donated by Patrick Keough, fiberglass manufacturer for Nebraska by Heart and owner of America’s Fiberglass Animals and Objects in Seward. Keough delivered the Heart – valued at $1,000 – to the school, presenting a blank canvas for the students’ artwork.
The students designed their own creative symbols in the form of 3 ½-inch squares placed in the “mosaic of love.” The exhibit, featuring representations by all 500 Kloefkorn students in grades K-2 and abstract designs by grades 3-5, now has a permanent home in the school library.
Shea-McCoy said she loves interacting with children as their artist-in-residence, and treasures their creative gifts and enthusiasm. “This particular project was so much fun, because each child searched the exhibit for their own design … it was like a ‘Where’s Waldo?’ project,” said Shea-McCoy. “Each child’s design is their own little masterpiece.”
Scott Fischer, a 27-year educator and the school’s art specialist since it opened in the fall of 2012, said the project created quite a buzz throughout the school. “There’s really a sense of ownership among the students … getting all the kids involved was key,” said Fischer. “It’s a perfect fit.”
Laura McClintock, a fourth-grade teacher at Kloefkorn School, added: “It was our privilege to have Liz work with our entire student body to create a truly beautiful work of public art. It’s obvious she’s passionate about art, and she teaches students the power in creating something together that symbolizes our unique individuality.”
She continued: “The students loved using black and white line and shape to represent themselves … fully assembled, put together, the heart is a powerful statement to the joy that can come to an entire school and community when we work together."