PENNSBURY >> Seven new pieces of student art are now adorning the walls and display cases inside the Pennsbury administration building on Yardley Avenue in Fallsington.
During a reception on Oct. 24, Superintendent Dr. William Gretzula joined the district’s art curriculum coordinator, Ruthann Schultz, in unveiling this year’s additions to the district’s permanent art collection.
The collection was begun two decades ago by former superintendent Ralph Nuzzolo and has grown over the years to include 122 two- and three-dimensional pieces of student art representing every school and every age level in the district.
“Twenty years from now somebody you don’t know is going to walk around the halls of this building and admire the work that we’re celebrating here today. That’s kind of a cool thing,” the superintendent told the young artists. “You’ve already made a legacy right here in Pennsbury that will survive probably all of us. It will be here for a long time,” Gretzula told the students.
The newest additions to the collection include a Terracotta Warrior sculpted by William Penn seventh grader Abigail Kispel, a glass head made by Pennsbury High School 11th grader Christina Holstrom, a painting of sunflowers by Eleanor Roosevelt first grader Makayla Jean-Charles and a study in radial symmetry by Pennwood seventh grader Gemma Conti.
Also included are an abstract portrait of artist Sandra Silberzwejg by Afton Elementary fourth grader Jason Shaffer, a perspective lines and shapes work of the New York City skyline by William Penn Middle School seventh grader Ryan Kennedy and a metal relief by Walt Disney fifth grader Amy Gonzalez.
An eighth piece of art - a self portrait by Pennsbury High School 12th grader Cole Roberts - was also showcased at the reception. His work will be included in a special art expo presented by the Bucks County Intermediate Unit on November 7 from 6 to 7 p.m. at Bensalem High School.
Prior to presenting each student with a certificate recognizing their contributions to the collection, Gretzula shared his own personal reflections on each of the works, noting that the landscapes in the collection evoked in him a sense of change. “And just being able to go with that flow and expect it and kind of roll with it.”
The Terracotta Warrior, he said, reminded him of two things - a trip he took with his mother and about 800 American educators to China a decade ago and a book, “The Day of Empire,” which tells the story of Emperor Qin - the first emperor of China - who unified China for the first time, built the 1500 mile long Great Wall and whose tomb contained the 7,000 strong Terracotta Army.
“Emperor Qin has a bad ending,” said the superintendent. “Even among his admirers, the first emperor was known for his cruelty and intolerance. He prohibited debate. He burned books. And he executed scholars. His oppressive policies sparked widespread rebellion and at least three assassination attempts. Although he survived, 15 years after the start of the Qin Dynasty the House of Qin was overthrown.
“As a leader it challenges me to think about the ways I want to live my life,” said Gretzula. “Cruelty, intolerance and a lack of appreciation of differences can’t be accepted by anyone, especially leaders.
“That got me thinking about Christina’s work,” the superintendent continued. “In our community we have incredible diversity, but I don’t want people to just be tolerant of the differences we have. I want people to truly appreciate the richness of that mosaic. For me that’s what this represents,” he said of the unique piece. “Some people look at the eyes and say they are burning right through me. For me, these colors, this mosaic represents the diversity of Pennsbury. I see every student in this face when I look at it.”
The superintendent added, “I know that as the artist you probably did this with a whole lot of other ideas in mind, that was not what you set out to accomplish - themes of change, tolerance and appreciation - but once you create it and give it away the observer or the listener is the one whose going to interpret it and make sense of it in their own lives.”
Gretzula then joined Schultz in handing out certificates to each of the honored artists and thanking them for donating their works to the collection.
Accompanied by their art teachers, the students spoke briefly about their works, including the process they used to make them.
Makayla said of her work, “It took me a long time, which is not a bad thing. And if you think you’re done, you’re never done,” she says. “You can always add more, even if it’s hanging up somewhere you can take it down and finish it.”
Christina created one of the more unusual pieces - a glass head.
“I really liked Dr. Gretzula’s interpretation because one of my favorite things about art is that anyone can have any type of interpretation they want. Overall,” she continued, “it was just very random. There was really no specific inspiration behind it. I guess it was emotional. I’m really happy that anyone can take any kind of inspiration as they want because it’s very random.”
Ryan Kennedy said his line drawing was inspired by the skyscrapers of New York City, a place where his mother works and that he visits often. “I did it from the perspective of if you were on the ground looking up.”
Conti created an ink print of an insect using radial symmetry. “I had a bit of an advantage because I used to want to be an entomologist,” she said.
Schultz expressed thanks to the students for their works and their teachers for educating them. She also thanked the administration and the community for its support of the arts.
According to Schultz, the selected works will be displayed for the first year inside the Superintendent’s office. They will then be moved into the hallways and offices of the administration building where they will go on permanent exhibit.