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Inspirational art: Students use works of local artist as starting point for essays

The McDuffie Arts Council recently saw an example of their mission come to life as one of the members received special recognition. At the council's April meeting, several fifth graders from QUEST classes at Norris Elementary came and read stories they had written to go with pictures of one of the artists on the MAC website.

"This is probably the proudest moment we've had since we started in September," MAC Chairman Marion Ivey said at the meeting. "It legitimizes what we're trying to do here, which is expose children to the arts and get them involved in art."

QUEST teacher Khrista Kent said she was looking on MAC's website for pictures that would spark the children's imaginations for story-writing.

"When I pulled all the different pictures up on the computer, the students all were drawn to Robert Schifeld's. His are kid-friendly," Ms. Kent said.

The pictures by Mr. Schifeld, who resides in Thomson, were used as the subject of a writing contest. The three winners, Gena Cody, Tristian Fulmer and Johna Wright, read their stories at the MAC meeting.

"We're really proud of the winners, proud of everybody that participated, and we're especially proud of Robert," Mr. Ivey said.

Mr. Schifeld's pictures are bright scenes with colored pencil drawings of multiple mythological creatures that include dragons, centaurs, fauns, unicorns, trolls and/or horses with wings. Not all of the creatures are used in every picture, but many are repeated in them. Although he only began drawing about three years ago, Mr. Schifeld said the creatures have been in his mind for a long time.

"When I was a kid, I was what some people call a dork," he said. "I didn't have any friends, so I made up my own friends. These (creatures) have seen me through my childhood."

During an interview after the council meeting, Mr. Schifeld fondly recalled at which point in his life he thought of each creature. He said his childhood was spent moving a lot in a dysfunctional lifestyle. When he was older, he served in Vietnam where he experienced the horrors of war. Drawing the pictures of his self-made childhood friends became therapy that enabled Mr. Schifeld to cope with the realities of his life.

"I don't sell them at all," he said of his pictures. "I do it because it gives me happiness. And I give them to children. It makes me happy that I am able to share with the kids."

He gives pictures to children who are sick, and said he currently is working on one for a child with cancer. Mr. Schifeld also gave each winner of the writing contest the picture that goes with the story they wrote. And he gave the entire class a large picture for the classroom, allowing the students to vote on which picture they wanted.

"I told them as you grow up, you start facing real problems. But, never lose fantasy and never lose your dreams," he said.

Ms. Kent said the students loved working with the stories, which put into practice the writing skills they'd been learning. She said they also made podcasts of the stories, with each child reading theirs on the computer and adding sound effects to go along with it. She said the students were thrilled to actually meet Mr. Schifeld.

"It's really been a fun project in my class," she told the art council. "The day he came to the classroom and knocked on the door, they were like 'He's here! He's here! A real, live artist!'"

Another MAC member, Louisa Hickman, took pictures of the children as they worked on their stories and made a scrap book which was presented to Mr. Schifeld at the meeting. He also received a copy of each of the stories. And he was pleasantly surprised.

"I thought 'They saw all that in my drawings?'" Mr. Schifeld said. "I was amazed with their imaginations. I thought the world had changed. You know, now the kids all play Nintendo and that kind of thing. But to see them getting into my fantasy pictures and writing the stories was amazing. I'm really impressed."

Web posted on Thursday, April 16, 2009

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