A group of student artists from Eighth Avenue Learning Centre and artist Connie Watts

A group of student artists from Eighth Avenue Learning Centre and artist Connie Watts

Students reflect culture through paint

Students unveiled three paintings at Eighth Avenue School as part of the Oneness of Nature project.

Stories of life and culture from First Nations elders in the Alberni Valley have inspired a group of students at Eighth Avenue Learning Centre, in conjunction with artist Connie Watts, to create three paintings that depict hardship, transition and growth.

The project, titled Oneness of Nature, was established by Watts who wanted to incorporate the Alberni Valley’s natural surroundings into the art.

An unveiling for the three paintings took place at the school on Wednesday, Feb. 8 that brought together the artists, First Nations representatives, elders, parents, teachers and School District 70 trustees.

Watts, who is a mixed media artist and designer, said the concepts for the paintings came from discussions with the students about hardships that may occur while in school.

The first painting is referred to as contemplation, that Watts described as being “that place where you’re not quite in the direction where you want to go.” The next painting depicts transition, with the idea of the morning after a storm and the final panel reflects growth.

“It was really a group effort to come up with these,” Watts said. “We had Julia and Simon Lucas that led the first cultural component of this that we got the concepts from, and we had a bigger group of students who sat around a table coming up with all of these ideas.”

The paintings took three months to complete.

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“A lot of [the students] didn’t like to come to class but they showed up to create these pieces,” Watts said. “I had a really good time working with them. Most weren’t artists before…they really took risks and it was incredible to see what they came up with so I’m very proud of them.”

Nick Seredick, Eighth Avenue Learning Centre vice principal, said the Oneness of Nature project began last year after the school moved into the newly renovated Eighth Avenue location.

“Like any new space, our walls were bare with opportunity. Students suggested we needed to add some colour to the space we’re in right now,” Seredick said.  “We decided we wanted to create a work of art that would reflect who our students are and the journey that some of them have taken.”

“The process started with elders Simon and Julia Lucas coming to our school on several occasions sharing stories of their life, their language and their culture to our staff and to our students,” Seredick said. “Any of us who were fortunate enough to be a part of those sessions will never forget those stories.”

Seredick said the paintings represent life experiences, both stormy and calm.

“This project is what education should be about,” he said. “Learning from elders, working together, reflecting, sharing stories and stepping out of your comfort zone to learn new skills.”

All three panels are hung in the school’s Open Learning Area.