School calendar ripped over art

Complaints: Harford County parents question school over the use of a student's drawing that includes a marijuana cigarette.

September 15, 2000|By Suzanne Loudermilk | Suzanne Loudermilk,SUN STAFF

A drawing of a rap singer flourishing a marijuana cigarette has some Harford County parents fuming and has red-faced officials scrambling to explain how the artwork was included in a school calendar sent to thousands of homes.

The calendar is part of the student-parent handbook produced each year by the public schools. The only problem is that the prize-winning drawing was not supposed to be reproduced in its entirety. So this week, rather than recall 40,000 copies of the handbook - which cost $18,000 to produce - the schools issued a statement giving step-by-step instructions on how parents could tear out the artwork.

"We're embarrassed by it," said Donald R. Morrison, school spokesman. "If it reflects negatively on the student and school, we apologize to anyone in the public who sees it and is offended by it."

The artist is 17-year-old Marcus Stocks, an Aberdeen High School senior, who says he was merely re-creating a photo from Ghostface Killah's new CD, "Supreme Clientele."

The pencil drawing depicts the recording artist with a microphone - and what Stocks says is a marijuana cigarette.

He says he was simply trying to capture the spirit of a photograph.

"I was challenged," said Stocks, who hopes to "do something with art" in college.

His moody portrait of the rapper won three first-place ribbons in a school art show.

This is the second year the Harford schools have used student artwork to showcase the calendar in the handbook, a compilation of rules and policies distributed to the youngest child in each family and to school employees in September.

But Morrison said there was a mix-up with Stocks' drawing.

Before they sent it to the school system to be considered for the calendar, Aberdeen High teachers decided they would have to do something about the cigarette in Ghostface's intricately drawn left hand.

With Stocks' approval, the picture was matted, blocking out the "smoking product," as it was described in the statement issued by the school system.

"I guess it was the only thing you can do," Stocks said. "I agreed with it."

Educators chose the doctored work, titled "Singer," to illustrate the month of February. Morrison said he never saw the complete drawing.

The printer, however, removed the mat and reproduced the entire picture for the calendar.

"Some people didn't think it was so bad," said Morrison, who fielded several telephone calls from parents. "Others thought it was the worst thing they had ever seen."

In its directive this week, the school system told those who find the drawing objectionable to "wait until the month of January is over and, when the page is turned to February, slice the top page containing the artwork, leaving the January artwork displayed and the February calendar page visible on the bottom."

That method of removal certainly will give January's "Eye," drawn by Ashley Souder of Harford Technical High School, more exposure.

Pat Benedict, president of the Harford County Council of PTAs, said no parents have contacted her about the artwork.

"It just begs the age-old issue of artistic freedom of expression," said the mother of three, two of whom attend county schools. "I don't know if one picture would cause someone to pick up a cigarette."

But, she added, "For a school calendar, it's not appropriate."

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