Longtime art teachers reflect on how students praise God through their artwork

In preparation for Catholic Schools Week 2021, we highlight two art teachers in the Diocese of Sacramento who share their thoughts of how God is never far away in their classes, as students praise God through their artwork.

St. John the Evangelist School, Carmichael

Leah Newton, art teacher for grades TK to 8 at St. John the Evangelist School in Carmichael, has a master’s degree in education with a California Clear Credential for Multiple Subjects, as well as a bachelor’s degree in dance from Loyola Marymount University in Los Angeles. She has been teaching since 1996 in both public and Catholic schools in grades K-12. Her students have won several local and national art awards. She published her first children’s book, “Of Wonder and Dreams,” that she both authored and illustrated.

In Leah Newton's own words:

“I love connecting our Catholic faith and integrating it with art whenever possible. I seek ways to integrate art not only with our academic curriculum, but also with the daily lives of our students. Catholic schools know that art is not just a specialty subject. It is vital to learning more about the world around you, fundamental to healing, and is essential in discovering how we are all God’s best masterpieces.

“Our art program is rooted in the Elements of Art and the Principles of Design. During the fall semester at St. John the Evangelist, students learned about line and texture elements. Our artwork was connected to the natural cycle of the season while exploring important design techniques. These elements are not only fabulous for making artwork look stylized and sometimes more realistic, they are also a wonderful resource for mindfulness and prayer. The repetition of the lines, like prayers on rosary beads, has applications in stress reduction and self-soothe therapy. This keeps God, our Creator, in the moment and the creative process.

“As you enter the campus at SJE, you will see an Art Rock Garden with painted rocks that look like fish. This project was inspired by the story, ‘Only One You’ by Linda Kranz. Above the sea of painted rocks is Psalm 139:14: ‘I will praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made.’ I love giving my students the confidence and tools to share their vision through art, so they can fulfill the gifts God gave to them. The joy I see in their eyes, when they see what they can do, shows me that they know in that moment that they are truly wonderfully made.

"Artwork not only permeates the liturgical seasons of Advent and Lent, but it also highlights Catholic rituals. For instance, students created artwork of a flower, or of Mary, for our school’s May Crowning in 2020. While we were not able to be together for this special Mass, I shared a video compilation of all of the students holding their artwork, and set it to the hymn of Hail Mary.

“During quarantine in the spring, all of us needed to readjust. Students were invited to find simple items around their home. They created sculptures, live domino mazes, drew chalk outside, and made their own art supplies using items from their kitchens. In doing so, students discovered grace all around them. Grace is about showing kindness, finding gratitude, letting go, and discovering God working through us. Using God-given creativity, students learned to find grace, and thus become igniters of grace for others."

To view artwork from students of St. John the Evangelist School in Carmichael, visit www.leahnewtonart.com.

St. Ignatius School, Sacramento

Barbara Domek began teaching art at St. Ignatius School in Sacramento in 2000. She received her degree in art from California State University Sacramento in 1983, and prior to teaching art, worked as a graphic artist and a cake decorator. She is a lifelong lover of art and nature, and passionate about the importance of art and creativity as a gift of God in each and every person. This is her 21st year teaching art at St. Ignatius School.

In Barbara Domek's own words:

"The art Program at St. Ignatius School has embraced the challenges of this unprecedented pandemic to maintain a robust and engaging learning experience for our students.

"Having been blessed with a brand new school building prior to the pandemic, we have been utilizing our new facilities, such as a spacious art-studio-style art room, interior wall display space, and a student art gallery in the parish office, to feature artwork from both distance-learning students and in-person students. During the full distance-learning period when all the students were learning from home, our art lessons were a balanced combination of emotional expression and personal intent through which students were able explore their feelings regarding the pandemic, along with activities emphasizing the beauty of God's creation all around them, as well as some much-needed light-hearted activities to provide fun and joyful enrichment during such a challenging time.

"As we are now conducting dual-teaching simultaneously with both in-person students and students distance-learning from home, the art program is focused on the standards-based, virtue-infused art curriculum that we normally provide here at St. Ignatius School, to create a learning environment of continuity for all the students as close to a regular school year as possible. The goal of this approach is to insure that the at-home students feel as much a part of the traditional school experience as those who are now back on campus, and to facilitate a sense of camaraderie and unity for all the students with their fellow classmates and school community.

"In addition to art lessons covering subjects such as the Elements of Art, the Principles of Design, color theory, perspective, art history and appreciation, introductions to artists and artistic styles, and exploring various mediums and techniques, our art program also incorporates spiritual religious-based activities which coincide with the liturgical seasons and holy days of the Catholic Church. We accomplished this during Lent and Easter while in full distance-learning last spring through online classes, and have continued through the Advent and Christmas seasons of this past year.

"Additionally, special art projects are built around religious and cultural events throughout the year. Some examples are All Saint's Day and the life of St. Ignatius (portrait paintings of saints and their symbols), Día de Muertos (sugar skulls and papel picado banners for our Ofrenda in collaboration with our Spanish teacher), California Mission architecture (in collaboration with our fourth grade teacher), Earth Day (earth collages made with recycled materials and Nature Mandalas created with found objects from nature), Ash Wednesday (using actual ashes as the medium in drawing a Tree of Lenten Gifts), May Crowning (paintings of the Blessed Virgin Mary surrounded with flowers), Confirmation (interpretations of the Holy Spirit in art, as inspired by scripture), and so on. Faith is a constant presence in the daily activities of our students, across all subjects.

"These types of faith-based artistic activities reinforce to the students God's love for all his people and for all creation. Whether distance-learning or in-person-learning, this is an important aspect for all our students as it emphasizes their participation in a Catholic school community, while both at home and on campus. Thus the students are reminded frequently of God's presence in the people and the world around them, and that everything we do is for the greater glory of God."

To view artwork from students of St. Ignatius School in Sacramento, visit www.stignatiussacschool.org/art