Portrait session launches WCHS memoir project with Otterbein University art students
The Westerville Central High School students sat in a circle, their faces composed, as art students at Otterbein University carefully sketched their portraits in charcoal.
In an artist’s studio at Otterbein’s Department of Art & Art History, the college artists shaped and shaded their subject’s facial features for a realistic drawing that will serve as reference for the painting they will create.
The artist session on Tuesday marked the start of a project where WCHS students born in countries all across the world will compose memoirs of their experiences as an immigrant high school student. Through a grant from the Westerville Education Foundation, the memoirs from 20 students will be compiled in a book with the portrait paintings by Otterbein students.
“I want them to find a safe space in which they can express their voices and let educators like me know what else we can do to serve them better,” said WCHS Spanish teacher Pablo Chignolli, who launched the project with English Learners teacher Deb Jones as a way to recognize the cultural diversity in the school.
Students participating in the project come to WCHS from all across the world: Ukraine, Rwanda, Costa Rica, Uruguay, Mexica, Colombia and Brazil.
Chignolli and Jones asked students to write about migrating to the United States and share what their life has been like as a high school student. Chignolli wanted to feature portraits of the students in the book, similar to the style of George Bush’s “Out of Many, One” book which featured stories of men and women who have immigrated to the United States in pursuit of the American Dream alongside painted portraits of them.
Chignolli reached out to the chair of Otterbein’s Department of Art & Art History about a possible partnership. He supported the project and connected him with Associate Professor Louise Captein.
Captein, who came to the U.S. from the Netherlands, was eager to participate and shared the project with art students across the university. Ten students volunteered to paint portraits during their free time.
“They all love the project,” she said. “It’s near and dear for a lot of us.”
Chignolli hopes to complete the project by December with plans to publish the book in January.
- Westerville Central High School
- Westerville City Schools