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Cheney, high school complete Herd projects

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Students at both West Fargo High School and the Cheney Middle School have put the final touches on their contributions to the Lake Agassiz Arts Councils Herd About the Prairie project.

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Students at the Cheney Middle School completed their creation last week, while the high school art students are making the final touches and are set to help transport their creations to Luther Auto Body in Fargo for a weatherproof coating that will help the bison remain on display this spring and summer.

Herd About the Prairie is the regions largest public art project and fundraiser that will introduce a creative and elaborately decorated herd of life-size Bison to businesses and public areas throughout the central Red River Valley.

Patterned after a successful public art project in Zurich, Switzerland, and later by many American cities, most notably Chicago, Herd About the Prairie brings artists, businesses and cities together in a celebration of culture, art, and community spirit.

When I heard about it, I was very excited and I really wanted to find a way to get the kids involved in something like this, Brenda Luthi, art teacher at the West Fargo High School, said. But the problem was in the funding. We didnt have the money to buy one.

The project, which serves as a fund-raiser for the local arts organization, would have called for the schools to pay thousands of dollars towards the bison, which also would have given them the ownership of the statues. Instead, the Fargo-Moorhead Visual Artists arranged for four bison, two full-size bison and two calves, to be split between the two secondary schools.

I was initially telling the kids about how we couldnt, and then all of a sudden we were planning what we could do to these two bison, Luthi said.

Luthis Art 6 students got together with the high schools Art 2 students and planned out what to do with the adult bison. The final decision was to use a graffiti theme, which left it wide open, Luthi said.

What happened, thanks to that theme, is that we were really able to include a lot of different ideas, and almost something from everyones sketch is included, she said.

Sketches on the bison started in February, and painting started later that month. By March, the creation took shape as a discussion of dreams and reality, spelled out on the actual statue.

The calf, meanwhile, became the main project of Joy Fisch and the Art I and II students, who dedicated it to the classes and activities at the high school.

That theme was also embraced by members of Ron Boehms art classes, and members of the student population at Cheney Middle School, which used time after school to create a jigsaw bison, with each piece representing part of life at the building. There is a dissected frog in one piece to represent science classes, a sewing machine in another to represent home economics.

Our first day, we just kind of sketched everything with washable marker, Boehm said. From there we composed the puzzle pieces. We emailed all of the advisors in the school and just kind of asked them for their image of life at the middle school. This is what we came up with. Im just very pleased.

The calf, meanwhile, features a cave-painting like series of handprints on the front, with the rear section comprised of a single headshot of each student from the school. The mosaic look is another masterpiece created from a series of ideas.

The kids who worked on it could come and go as they wanted, and thats the way it really should have worked out, Boehm said. I didnt want a huge group that I couldnt manage. But it was interesting. We had a handful of kids who really felt like they had to be there, while others came when they could. There were so many other activities going on, to do this after school meant that the kids would be faced with choices from time to time. So they did what they could. But it was great to have them all on the same page and to come up with such a neat idea.

Sponsored by the Lake Agassiz Arts Council (LAAC), businesses and corporations were invited to sponsor life-size bison statues that spent the winter in the studios of regional artists, and at schools, where they have undergone a transformation from rosin statue to public art.

The entire herd of bison will be unveiled to the public later this spring, including several at the Fargo Marathon on May 20, and make their temporary home throughout the area inside buildings, in public areas, on street corners, and many other locations on the public landscape.

After a summer of display, the bison will then be auctioned to the public with proceeds directed toward the Lake Agassiz Arts Council and their associated cultural and artistic organizations and members for the advancement of the regions creative arts.

LAAC Director Martha Keeler Olsen has led a large group of volunteers within the artistic and business communities to coordinate the project that will have more than 40 bison decorated and exhibited in the communities within a specific radius of the Fargo/Moorhead/West Fargo area.

Olsen said a herd of bison is natures fitting symbol of the regions history and is also representative of the strength and spirit of American business and artistic expression.

Were really excited about the work these schools are doing, Olsen said. Weve seen the end result and theyre just darling. Were eager to get them on display, which is the next huge step in this project.

For more information, visit LAAC online at www.herdabouttheprairie.org

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