DeKALB – Last year, the Huntley Middle School Art Club asked itself what the Pledge of Allegiance meant to them.
Students’ answers now appear as eight different paintings mounted in the middle school’s main reception area for school officials, parents and occasionally students to see. On each of the paintings is a different passage from the pledge.
The first painting, which has inscribed on it, “I pledge allegiance to the flag,” prominently shows the superhero Captain America and the American flag.
The third, “And to the Republic,” features a different take on the U.S. seal. While the bald eagle is still prominent, a DeKalb logo is located above the eagle’s head. Instead of having the American flag displayed on the shield, the DeKalb Barbs logo appears.
Eighth-grader Jordan Nguyen, one of the students who helped paint and detail the “And to the Republic” painting, said it was a challenge.
“It was a long process,” Nguyen said. “But it was a lot of fun to work on, and it was a good challenge for me throughout the school year.”
Eighth-grader Jasmine Kemp, who helped paint all eight canvasses, described the paintings as being students’ way of having a positive impact on America.
“We can’t really do much to America yet because we’re too young,” Kemp said. “So this is our way of respecting America.”
Seventh-grader Zak Lewerenz voiced similar sentiments.
“We can’t really do much because we’re still young,” Lewerenz said. “We can’t be mayor of Cortland or DeKalb. We can’t be the president of America. Can’t do much.”
HMS art teacher and club supervisor Mark Barwegen said the students brainstormed different ideas and symbols they could use in their paintings. Barwegen said 15 to 20 students worked on the paintings over a four- to five-month period.
“They did a really good job of putting those symbols together and creating those eight pieces ... with those symbols tied in,” Barwegen said. He added that the students drew the symbols on the canvas before painting them with acrylic paint.
Each painting has its own reference to the U.S. The “For which it stands” painting shows American soldiers raising the flag on Iwo Jima, while “With liberty” features the Statue of Liberty and the Liberty Bell. The painting series is bookended with superheroes; “And justice for all” depicts Superman and Lady Justice.
One absence from the paintings was any direct references to the Sept. 11 attacks, the 11th anniversary of them being today. When asked if they considered adding some kind of imagery relating to the attacks, Nguyen, Kemp and Lewerenz said they had not.
“I guess we just really didn’t think about it at the time,” Kemp said. “If we had, we would have definitely added it to the paintings.”
Barwegen said that might be because of their age. All three of the students would have been infants on Sept. 11, 2001.
“We’re at that stage now where they don’t remember,” Barwegen said. “They were alive, but they don’t remember unless they’ve had some stories that had been implanted to their memories by their mom or dad.”
Barwegen added that the project was focused on the Pledge of Allegiance, and that it would have been difficult to directly associate any single part of the pledge to 9/11 imagery, or whether it would be appropriate to do so.
“As a group, they decided on [symbols] that matched up with that part of the Pledge, and that’s probably why any reference to Sept. 11 didn’t make it in because they were looking at the words and how they tied together,” Barwegen said.
Barwegen said on Tuesday, he plans to teach in all of his classes how students can use art, specifically photography, to remember historical events. He said he will show pictures from that time period.
“We’ll talk about how as a photographer you can help to record history or be a part of history,” Barwegen said.
In addition to the obvious shows of patriotism and references to DeKalb, there are shared elements between all of the paintings. All are bordered by barbed wire, another reference to DeKalb.
Barwegen said the students wanted to limit their color range to emphasize the pride they have in their country and their school.
This is why, Barwegen said, the only colors in the painting are red, white and blue – the colors on the American flag – and orange and black – the official colors of DeKalb School District 428.
“It’s showing spirit in a number of ways,” Barwegen said.