A $1 million grant will allow Latrobe junior high to display art purchases

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Greater Latrobe School District has a strong tradition of art appreciation, dating to 1936, when two teachers began to involve students in buying regional artists' work each year for display.

The senior high school in Unity has more than 200 paintings purchased by the high school students and the community.

Now, through a $1 million grant from the Richard King Mellon Foundation, a hallway connecting the junior high school and the high school will be renovated to display art purchases by junior high school students, as well.

Jessica Gordon is director of the Center for Student Creativity in the high school, which encourages students to get involved in the arts.

"The junior high hallway has no windows, so it's pretty dark," she said. "It once had lockers for students. We'll be adding recessed track lighting in the ceiling to brighten up the space to display a new junior high special art collection similar to the high school collection. The junior high school students will select the pieces each year."

In addition, about $225,000 of the Mellon grant already has been used to install electronic whiteboards in 50 classrooms, Ms. Gordon said.

Former teachers Mary Marth Himler and James R. Beatty, who were both artists, first began the art appreciation program in the school district in 1936.

They took students to exhibits by the Associated Artists of Pittsburgh and other local art displays, then students would select one painting to purchase each year.

"The art collection at the high school is really the story of southwestern Pennsylvania art over the last 75 years," Ms. Gordon said. "We really value the arts and art appreciation here in our district."

Art also is purchased each year in the district's three elementary buildings, with students selecting the pieces.

The Center for Student Creativity in the high school is a multipurpose area where students can display their own art and hold small theater and musical presentations.

High school students each year hold fundraisers to purchase the art for the high school's special collection. An assembly is held during which art students present different pieces of art and explain the style and medium. Then, all students vote on which piece to purchase.

"The purchase is usually for less than $5,000, and sometimes students will ask for help from our education foundation or the community trust to buy the piece," Ms. Gordon said. The collection includes several paintings by Ms. Himler and Mr. Beatty, as well as Pittsburgh artists. One of the best known artists is George Sotter of Pittsburgh, who taught at Carnegie Mellon University. He often painted landscapes of rural scenes in Western Pennsylvania.

The high school students hold an annual art gala fundraiser, which 400 people usually attend, Ms. Gordon said. It will be held Nov. 7 this year.

In 1991, at the recommendation of Mr. Beatty, the school board formed the Greater Latrobe School District Art Conservation Trust to oversee the care and conservation of the art collection. The Art Trust is made up of community members, faculty, school district administrators and the school board.

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Debra Duncan, freelance writer: suburbanliving@post-gazette.com.


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