Hollywood School kids’ art turned into sculpture

Rain garden gets finishing, artful touch

By BOB UPHUES
Editor

The rain garden planted two years ago by the school children on the south side of Hollywood School in Brookfield looked fine all by itself. Now it looks even better.

On Friday morning, outgoing PTA President Kierith Kurth and artist Sonata Kazimieraitiene unveiled a new free-standing sculpture in the midst of the garden. A year in the planning and more than a month in the execution, the brightly colored, geometric mosaic totem pole incorporates the work of every student in the school.

The students gathered in the school gym to count down the event and watched it on a screen set up on the stage via a camera connected to a laptop computer outside. Afterward, the kids came out class by class to get a closer look. Kids crowded around the artwork and picked out their own contributions.

Second-grader Jake Stewart found the flower he had made on the base of the sculpture, which included ceramic bees, frogs, salamanders, spiders, leaves and butterflies all made and painted by students.

“The art teacher said to use two colors, but I accidentally did three,” said Jake, who nonetheless got the OK for his design by his teacher. “So I did a combo of colors. I did different designs, swirling and circle designs.

“It’s really cool.”

The sculpture is the result of the school’s artist-in-residence program, which has over the years produced art that can be found elsewhere in the school. Previously such projects were funded through grants from the Illinois Arts Council.

But with grants for artist-in-residence programs cut by the state, a Hollywood PTA fundraiser brought in $4,000 and District 96 kicked in another $2,000 to the cause. The rest of the money – $6,000 – came from the Bette Immel Kayse Memorial Fund.

Kayse, a longtime neighborhood resident who was a past PTA president at Hollywood School, was Kurth’s next door neighbor. When Kayse died in 2007 the family established a fund in her memory, one to be used for cultural arts projects at Hollywood School. It was a Kayse donation that funded the rain garden project in 2008.

Kurth found Kazimieraitiene after attending an Illinois Arts Council showcase event in 2009. Looking through a catalog of artists, she found one who looked like a perfect fit – better yet, she lived in Brookfield.

Kazimieraitiene moved to the village about four years ago, after coming to the U.S. from her native Lithuania a decade ago. She had come to the U.S. to get her MBA, but ended up meeting ceramic artist Corinne Peterson, who was doing an artist-in-residence project at her daughter’s school in Palos Hills.

She ended up taking classes with Peterson and became her assistant on several projects at schools and parks in the Chicago area. In all, Kazimieraitiene said, she’s been involved in 20 such public art projects.

“From the first time I met Kierith, I knew it was going to work,” Kazimieraitiene said of the Hollywood project.

Kids first drew their designs in art class. Then, during a five-week period, Kazimieraitiene met with students in small groups in the school gym, where they molded their small, approximately two- to four-inch designs in clay and painted them.

“When the kids did their drawings in art class, we asked them to draw what they thought about when they thought about the rain garden,” Kurth said. “Most of the specific shapes and elements came from the kids.”

Kazimieraitiene was responsible for firing the clay and incorporating them into the seven-foot tall sculpture, which resembles a totem pole that doubles as a bird bath.

Kids in the lower grades designed simple flowers. Third-, fourth- and fifth-graders could pick what they wanted to design.

“They had options,” Kazimieraitiene said. “That’s what they really loved about it.”