CREVE COEUR • The art room at De Smet Jesuit High School was filled with sadness. The images the students created conveyed sorrow, frustration, a sense of helplessness.
The drawings and paintings, for the most part, do not reflect the lives of the young artists, although some students bring firsthand experience to their canvases and sketch pads.
The students here created illustrations to accompany the often heartbreaking stories told in the 100 Neediest Cases campaign. The school has made the project part of the curriculum for junior and senior art students for 18 years. Other schools across the region also have made the art project a classroom assignment.
Part of the Jesuit philosophy is that good deeds are more powerful than words.
De Smet art teacher Ed Berns said the art project fits that role, enhancing the stories of those in dire need of help.
"This is doing something good for the community," Berns said.
Vanessa Wayne, director of the 100 Neediest Cases, coordinated by United Way of Greater St. Louis, agrees.
"The artwork is such an integral part of the program," Wayne said. The United Way gets comments from readers that they are drawn to the cases by the artwork published alongside the profiles of families in need, she said.
Each year, as the artwork arrives at the United Way offices, "there are some pieces that take our breath away," Wayne said.
This year, 205 works from 21 schools in Missouri and Illinois were submitted. As in the past, judges picked the best. Students who place in the top four receive Art Mart gift cards as prizes.
"It doesn't get any easier," said Art Kennon, a retired high school art teacher in the Ferguson-Florissant School District, as he looked over the drawings and paintings. He has judged the 100 Neediest Cases student art project for 30 years. There is the technique to consider when judging. But that has to be balanced with how effective the emotions of the subjects are conveyed, he said.
Helen Quick, a former art history teacher at Missouri Baptist University and a longtime judge of the student artwork competition, said the piece "must evoke people to want to give to a cause."
Quick said judges also have to consider how the drawing or painting will look in the newspaper and whether the artwork successfully illustrates the tone of the stories.
With each of the art pieces lying flat on rows of tables in a large conference room at the downtown office of United Way, five judges reviewed each work. Two and a half hours later, the judging was complete.
All of the artwork will be on display beginning Tuesday at the Missouri History Museum with a reception for the students and their guests Saturday.
The students who participated often turn to family as inspiration for their work, talking a parent, grandparent or sibling into posing for a photo that can be used as a guide.
De Smet senior Jake Yankowitz, 18, posed his mother sitting at a table, looking dejected, with her reading glasses resting atop a page of newspaper help wanted ads. He wanted to convey the frustration of unemployment. The judges ranked his work in the top 10.
Classmate Kevin Todd, 17, persuaded his brother to model for his painting. The photo he took to work from was shot in such a way that it appears his brother is reaching out to comfort another person, which is actually the brother's shadow.
For student Patrick Willett, 18, his inspiration for the last two years has been based in reality. Last year, his pen and ink drawing featured a likeness of his dying grandfather, suffering from gall bladder cancer. This year, the subject in his painting is his younger brother in a hospital bed, being treated for an infection.
"I'm very familiar with the sick and when you draw something out of your life, it puts more meaning into what you are doing," Willett said. He hopes those who view his work see the emotion it contains.
"It meant a lot to me," he said.
Brad Heinemann, an art teacher at Mary Institute and St. Louis Country Day School, said the project provides a good experience for his students.
"It allows them to get their feet wet with submitting to juried shows," Heinemann said. "And, obviously, it's for a good cause."
Three of his students made the top 10 this year, including nabbing first and second places.
The winner, senior Ted Staley, had not had an art class since his freshman year. Other school obligations, including playing French horn in band, took up his time. But last summer, Staley took an art class at St. Louis Community College at Meramec to convince teachers at MICDS "I was up to speed" in his ability to draw.
"My first attempt was pretty shoddy," he said of drawing his winning entry, the face of an elderly man looking down on his luck. He worked with Heinemann on understanding scale and balance and based his drawing on various photos he looked at online, focusing on facial expressions.
Despite Staley's success, "I'm not sure I'd consider it a serious career. I'm looking to go into engineering."
Andy Throm, an art teacher at Webster Groves High School, saves newspapers from previous years so he can show students the type of artwork that has been published.
"There's a little bit of constructive criticism and a lot of positive reinforcement, and I try to help them look like when it will be printed," Throm said. "We even take them down and Xerox them to take a look at what look like (when reproduced)."
Art instructors tell students the pieces they create must have depth, texture and high contrast to look good in print.
"They get a kick out of just doing it for the possibility of it getting published," said Susie Fugate, an art teacher at Nerinx Hall High School. Two Nerinx students finished in the top 10.
"Even the ones who aren't very strong. When we tell them that you don't have to submit it, but you have to do it because you're going to get a grade, we've never had anyone who didn't want to submit it."