Vivian Goodman, WKSU
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Clearview High school student artists create a still-life mural for the cafeteria using real apples, onions, peppers, avocados and more
It’s an art lesson about still life, and a life lesson about food.
Ceramic artist George Woideck is helping Clearview High School art students make tiles from molds of real fruits and vegetables.
“We have an apple, we have an onion, we have half of a pepper and we have an avocado, and then later this afternoon we will have a lime, a banana, a tomato, and an orange, and that’s what we’ll finish up with.”
Young Audiences of Northeast Ohio, a non-profit that connects professional artists with students, brought Woideck into art teacher Jean Jensen’s classroom, and she embraced his concept for the “Healthy Living” mural.
“I think it’ll show them that fruits and vegetables are not only healthy to eat but nice to look at.”
Fruits and vegetables work well in still lifes
Artists have been teasing our sense memories with tantalizing food since cave drawings and depictions of sumptuous feasts on the walls of ancient Egyptian tombs and Roman floor mosaics.
Monet, Gauguin, Matisse and Picasso often arranged fruits and vegetables before their easels.
“There’s a lot of symmetry and artistic value to looking at these,” says Jean Jensen.
And there’s a lot of work to do to transform fresh produce into works of art.
Woideck teaches the students a ceramic technique that dates from 9th century Persia: Majolica. They make plaster molds from the actual fruits and vegetables and then clay tiles from the molds.
Each plaster mold can make a dozen tiles.
“The tiles are going to be mounted in the cafeteria,” Woideck tells the students. “So they’re going to become a permanent part of your school.”
Inspiration from the teacher’s garden
Working with real food in still lifes isn’t entirely new for the students.
Jean Jensen’s been teaching art at Clearview High School for 27 years and tending her kitchen garden for even longer.
“I bring in peppers of all kinds from my garden. And we do pastels of the live peppers and fruit so that’s a start for them, the experience of holding them and looking at them and looking at the highlights and shadows . And it really makes them appreciate the shapes and how they fit together.”
Food Service Director Darlene Baker hopes the mural will help students appreciate what she serves.
“We offer broccoli, we offer the California blend, fresh cucumbers, tomatoes, asparagus.”
But the food often gets left on the plate.
Unknown vegetables de-mystified
In a bid to familiarize the children with food they might not have seen at home, Baker brings in healthy snacks at 10 a.m. three days a week at the elementary school
“There are a lot of kids who don’t know what the vegetables are. I gave them green beans one day for their snack, and a whole green bean — they didn’t know what it was. They don’t know what asparagus is.
“Broccoli, in the beginning, they didn’t know what it was. … What I’ve been doing is walking the cafeteria as they’re eating. And they’ll tell me what they like and they don’t like. And if I can get them to try it, usually they will say, ‘Yeah, I do like it.’ So getting them to try it is the biggest task.”
She has to keep pushing those healthy options because concern about the rise in child obesity has changed the rules for school cafeteria food.
“The kids are allowed only so many calories per day. We have to offer so many fruits, so many vegetables. Last year we were allowed to give them just a canned fruit. Now they want a lot of fresh fruit and vegetables which is very expensive, but I’ve been following it.”
She says elementary pupils tend to like her new salad bar but older students avoid it.
“The high school says that they don’t like the vegetables, but they’re pretty accepting of the fruit. Some of them take it and throw it in the garbage, but most of them are pretty accepting of the fruit.”
A student athlete sees the value of vegetables
At 16, Esid Aponte has adapted his diet. He finds he has more strength and power for basketball and skateboarding now that he eats well.
His favorite meal is his mom’s chicken alfredo, but he’ll usually adds to it.
“I’ll put broccoli in it. … I usually like it steamed so it’s nice and soft.”
He’s unique among his friends.
“Most of them really don’t eat vegetables, but I always have to have at least two when I’m eating lunch here. … I didn’t grow up liking them. It just randomly hit me two years ago that I started liking vegetables.”
He likes coating them with plaster, too.
But George Woideck has to make the students wait for the fun of decorating the tiles.
“We’ll put a white glaze on them first and then you’ll paint the color of the fruit and the vegetable onto that, and also the little detail. See the little detail on the tile that’s finished of the avocado?”
Her first encounter with an avocado
This is the first avocado 16-year-old Shelby Allen has seen up close.
“I greatly prefer fruits to vegetables, mainly because fruits are more sweet. My mother says I ate more vegetables when I was younger. I’m very picky about them now. I wasn’t that picky when I was younger.”
She says working on the mural might open her mind.
“Because I think from an artistic point of view. So when I see the interesting shapes, I just want to look at them more, and I’m kind of thinking maybe I should try that again.
She might even eat her first avocado.
“Yeah, I’ve never had one, but I want to try one.”
The texture of an avocado, the pock marks of an orange, all those intricate details are now on colorful display in the Clearview Schools cafeteria.
And as back-to-school kids line up with their trays, the hope is that looking up at the new mural will inspire better choices.