By Jessica Able, Record Staff Writer
Ascension School art students, their art teacher Ann Smith and the owners of Dee’s Crafts, have teamed up to help underfunded art programs in three local schools.
Art created by Ascension students is available on posters, T-shirts and other products at the local craft store on Shelbyville Road. Proceeds from the sales of their creations provide funds for art programs at Hazelwood Elementary, Meredith-Dunn School and the West End School.
To date, the store owners, Larry and Kathy Olliges, have donated more than $15,000 from the sales.
“We are in creative business and anything we can do to create interest in creativity is great,” Larry Olliges said in a phone interview. “Most school systems do not fund art programs very well anymore. Anything we can do to raise funds for art programs not only benefits us but benefit students in schools.”
The collaboration began in 2013 when Smith’s students were preparing artwork for the Taste of Ascension, a fundraiser for the school sponsored by the Parent Teacher Organization. In February of that year, students in each grade created artwork based on the theme “Derby City” to be raffled at the auction.
Later that year Smith was introduced to the Olliges and the subject of the student art projects came up.
“When they saw one (of the projects) in particular, they thought it would be neat as a poster or a print,” Smith recalled in an interview at the school last week.
Smith supplied one of the original pieces of student art and photographs of others and the Olliges sent them to one of their vendors to inquire about reproducing them. The artwork was transferred to a variety of T-shirts, posters of various sizes and coasters.
Larry Olliges noted that his business doesn’t earn a profit on the items. Fifty percent of the sale of an item goes to the school art programs, he said, and the other half goes toward the cost of producing the item.
One popular item is a brightly-colored poster featuring different spellings of Louisville created by Smith’s first-grade students.
A set of coasters with a horse design is another popular product, especially during Derby season, Larry Olliges said.
A new product introduced in December is a T-shirt with an image of a fleur-de-lis — the city’s unofficial symbol. The graphic was created by dividing the fleur-de-lis into segments. Eighth-grade students then created “fancy doodlings” using a technique known as “zentangle,” Smith explained. Since introducing this item, the craft store has been able to donate $5,000 to the art programs in the last month alone.
Smith grew up with a love for the arts and credits her high school art teacher as the motivation behind her desire to become an art teacher. She studied art education at Eastern Kentucky University and later earned her master’s degree in elementary education at the University of Louisville.
She has spent 20 of her 35 years of teaching at Ascension School. Smith works Monday to Wednesday and sees students in each grade once a week — from 3-year-olds in preschool to teenagers in middle school.
She said she’s inspired to see what her students create.
“It’s neat to see. I give a lesson and I give direction. They take supplies and go with it. In a room with 20 kids, I get 20 different things turned back in,” she said.
Smith said she’s happy that her students have the opportunity to express themselves through art.
“Art touches on a different part of the brain. It lets you express yourself in a way you are not able to in other classes. You don’t have to use words or go through a systematic process. The results are, hopefully, satisfying,” she said.
Smith said it’s important to her for her students to understand the impetus behind the art-in-schools project.
“Through this experience I hope the students realize how fortunate they are to be receiving an excellent education at Ascension that includes opportunities to explore their creative side, but also I want them to realize that even at their young age they are capable of giving of themselves and making a difference in the lives of others,” she said.