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The City Journals

Painted piano tells stories

Oct 31, 2016 10:51AM ● By Jet Burnham

Students will be invited to play background music on the piano during Parent Conferences. (Deborah Hansen/Fox Hollow Elementary)

By Jet Burnham | [email protected]

West Jordan, Utah - A select handful of students at Fox Hollow Elementary transformed an old piano into a work of art. Principal Kevin Pullan and teacher Deborah Hanson are thrilled to provide these fifth- and sixth-graders a chance to salvage the instrument while developing skills in the arts.

  “Pianos in schools take a beating, and this one looked terrible,” said Pullan. “It was an eyesore. I thought about sending it out on surplus. Then I had an idea.”  

An artist himself, Pullen knew the 40-year-old piano would make a great canvas for an art project.

“I love to see the kids painting,” the principal said.

 The piano was painted white and divided into sections. The young artists designed their own square and mixed their own colors of acrylic paints.

A variety of artistic styles were used to create the quilt-like look. Sixth-grader Jaya Tuft recently began experimenting with stippling. She applied this new technique to her side of the piano. Rose Andam’s style has tiny features and highly detailed elements. Kayley Liu mostly draws animals and has had little experience working with paint. Trying something new with this project, she added lots of colors to her section.

“It feels like we’re vandalizing, but we are fixing it,” said Isabelle Baker, a sixth-grader.

Bylee Atherley doesn’t want to stop at painting pianos. 

“I wish I could paint my violin,” she said. 

Pullan asked fifth-grade teacher Hanson to oversee the after-school project, which took one month to complete. 

“She knows how to integrate the arts into the curriculum and does it every day,” Pullan said. They decided to decorate the piano in folk art, one of the topics she taught her students last year.

 “I thought it would be fun to have some of the children take what they had learned from her and apply it in a more permanent and lasting way,” the principal said.

Folk art generally represents a person or culture so the designs have personal elements. Leah Homer, a sixth-grader, designed a block that represents things she loves: Disneyland, Gettysburg, dance, French and the U of U.

Skyler Mardis created a scene with a corn stalk and a sunrise, inspired by early mornings on her great-grandma’s Illinois farm.

This art project is different than anything these young artists have done before.

 “This is a new medium for the kids,” said Pullan. Most artwork they produce is on paper and is temporary. 

“This is something that will last,” he said. He plans to invite students play the piano as background music during Parent–Teacher Conferences.

The students feel ownership of their creation and hope the piano will be in use at the school for a long time. 

“I’ll bring my kids here one day and tell them I did this when I was 11,” said Leah Homer.

Pullan is thrilled to have a teacher like Hanson. 

“She is a champion for arts in schools,” he said. 

She says the same of him. 

“I came specifically to this school because of the principal,” she said. “That’s 100 percent the reason I came here.” Previous principals had not been as supportive. Hanson insists that integrating the arts doesn’t take time away from core subjects. She believes it makes better students and better people. 

  “I’ve always felt art is important and not in the classroom enough,” she said. “Kids have had so little experience with arts, they are excited to use it.” Hanson believes focusing only on core subjects leaves the students incomplete. They need experience with the arts to be well-rounded.

“It takes away part of their humanity to not have that balance,” she said.