A green bug. A blue leaf. A purple flower. Tiny black and white self-portraits. These images and dozens more appear to be tattooed on a pair of hands.
Actually Megan Kowalski, a student at Ronald Reagan IB High School, created the collage by carefully placing three dozen small drawings on an image of her hands, using Adobe Photoshop software.
“My artwork is a reflection about myself,” Kowalski said, adding that each of the doodles represents something unique about her, and the photo collage is her way of presenting it to others. For example, her drawing of a flower symbolizes foresight, a quality she sees in herself.
Kowalski’s artwork was one of a group of photo collages done by Reagan students that were displayed at City Hall. Each collage was accompanied by a reflective essay written by the student artist.
Artwork by other Reagan students has been shown at the Wisconsin State Capitol, and is currently on display at the Kohler Arts Center in Sheboygan. The college preparatory school, at 4965 S. 20th St., also holds “gallery nights,” which have attracted as many as 400 parents at a time, according to Chad Sperzel-Wuchterl, an art teacher at Reagan.
The exhibitions “show what the kids can do,” Sperzel-Wuchterl said. “When the parents see it, they actually see something that not just looks pretty, but that is … something meaningful to [the students].”
Reagan art club members create the collages as part of Voices of the Young, a program sponsored by KnowThyself. The program’s purpose is to give high school students the opportunity to express who they are and how they see the world through photography, digital media and writing.
Stephanie Klurfeld, a retired Chicago businesswoman, founded KnowThyself as an esteem-building program for at-risk girls in Milwaukee Public Schools in 1996, first implementing it at Jackie Robinson Middle School.
At Reagan, the students work under the direction of photographer and KnowThyself arts coordinator Paul Calhoun.
“I think often (teenagers) need to be both acknowledged as individuals, and also given the opportunity to express themselves. Not only does that give them the feeling that they have value, but also instills self confidence to pursue new ideas,” Calhoun said.
Calhoun and Sperzel-Wuchterl also work to expand students’ post-secondary education options by introducing them to arts professionals and by visiting art programs at colleges such as University of Wisconsin -Stevens Point, Cardinal Stritch University and Milwaukee Institute of Art & Design.
“(KnowThyself) helps them develop their portfolios for getting into the colleges they want,” Sperzel-Wuchterl said.
“There are terrific students in this school, and yet their personal lives are often quite chaotic,” Calhoun said. “They are exceptionally positive kids who are looking toward their own future.”