Pt. Higgins unveils student-produced art project

Artist-in-residence Brian Elliot reveals two panels, that he and about 300 students created, on Nov. 13 at Point Higgins Elementary School. The orcas mirror each other, and are installed on both sides of the cafeteria. The panels are made from plywood and patterned with a combined amount of 300 block prints. Each block was carved by a different student. Staff photo by Dustin Safranek

At an assembly on Nov. 13, Pt. Higgins Elementary School unveiled a newly finished art project that the entire student body completed with the help of artist-in-residence Brian Elliot.

 The finished piece features two large, framed killer whales — inspired by the school’s mascot — formed by piecing together small blocks of wood that the students carved with guidance from Elliot.

Elliot is the archery coach at Pt. Higgins Elementary. He has experience as a substitute teacher, and currently owns and operates Coastal Commercial Service, a firearms supply company.

 Elliot said he was approached about a residency two years ago, and that he was partly inspired to take the opportunity by Dave Rubin, who had been in artist-in-residence at the school in years past.

 As an artist, Elliot gravitates toward print-making or block-printing, which he works on locally in Ketchikan. He also has spread his artwork throughout the West Coast.

 “My — I don’t know if you’d call it expertise — but what I was comfortable teaching these kids was block printing,” Elliot told the Daily News at the end of his residency, which lasted one week.

 “I put together a curriculum to kind of explain print-making,” Elliot added.

 Elliot’s curriculum included looking at block-printing “back 64,000 years ago in caves to actual pictographs (and) pictures of people’s hands on the walls of caves.”

 Elliot said that the project was “basically encompassing human beings as a whole, early human beings as a whole, and telling their story.”

 During the residency, Elliot worked with the entire student body in groups of 30 to 40 kids at a time, for a half hour each day.

 “They were absolute champs,” Elliot said of the students.

 The groups included students in kindergarten through sixth grade. Preschoolers were assigned a separate project – a mosaic of painted paper pieces that, when put together, revealed a smiling whale.

 “It was nice to get the whole school involved,” Elliot said. “They did it as a whole, as a class, but also were able to make relationships with the younger kids, where they wouldn’t have normally.”

 The work to finish the project lasted all week.

“First, we kind of did some painting stuff, and some other odds and ends, and then we actually got into carving 4-by-6 blocks, each individual kid,” Elliot explained.

 The carving was done with a gouging tool and wood blocks.

 “Everybody was super, super stoked and just had an absolute blast,” Elliot said about how the students responded to the project.

 While students did not know what the final result would look like, “everybody kind of got the gist that it was an orchestrated project,” Elliot said.

 Elliot said that although each class worked together while carving their own wood blocks, the students did not see the final result — the blocks layered together to form the complete shape of the whales – until the assembly on Nov 13.

 After the assembly, the completed set of whales was hung in the school commons. The preschoolers’ project was also displayed.

 Elliot said that the permanence of the display was “kind of the whole process.”

 For Elliot, the process was “trying to get these kids’ minds around ‘hey, you’re going to be able to tell your story for a long time, when you come here when you’re my age, you’re going to able to see what you had a hand in.’”

 “It’s kind of hard to keep sixth-graders through kindergartners occupied for the week, but it worked out pretty good,” Elliot said.