Student activity drawing heavily from school spirit

Cougars: On wooden replicas of big cats, Pasadena students are expressing pride and perhaps setting a trend.

March 10, 2002|By Stephen Kiehl | Stephen Kiehl,SUN STAFF

Cougars are prowling the classrooms and hallways of Chesapeake High School in Pasadena, teeth bared and backs arched, and turning up in the most unlikely places. The felines lurk along walls, above chalkboards and on desktops.

Who let the cats in?

Principal Harry Calender did. The 72 cougars are all plywood cutouts -- about 4 feet long, 2 feet tall and almost an inch thick -- decorated by students and teachers. Calender set them loose this month to boost school spirit and celebrate Chesapeake's 25th anniversary.

"Every school has a problem with morale and that sort of thing, and we want to get people involved," said Calender, who was inspired by the Cows on Parade exhibit in Chicago and Baltimore's Fish Out of Water exhibit last summer.

When the cougars are finished, they will be lined up on a ledge around the cafeteria, to peer down on generations of students as a permanent exhibit.

"Whatever [the students] do will be here till the school comes down," said Amy Harsanyi, a Spanish teacher who asked her students to decorate her cougar. They used pencils and markers to draw guitars, sombreros, maps of Spain and a toreador.

While Chesapeake High is happy with its cougars -- the big cat is the school's mascot -- the rest of the county's schools might be participating in a similar spinoff of the public art phenomenon.

The school system's art coordinator, Mark Coates, said he wants to get all schools involved in decorating sailboats next year.

The details are still being worked out, but Coates said he wants schools to design the boats -- which would be a few feet long with a mast -- and then display them at the schools and perhaps in Annapolis store windows during next spring's boat show.

"The idea has gotten a lot of enthusiasm," Coates said. "When you have artwork up in a school, people just walk by it. But because this is not expected, they stop and talk about it."

He said the sailboats could be auctioned at the end of the exhibit to raise money for school system art programs.

At Chesapeake, Calender said he first wanted each department in the school to design one cougar that would be appropriate to its field of study.

That would have been 13 cougars. But most departments wanted to do more than that. "When I cut out the first dozen cougars, they just went," said Lin Sullivan, a technical education and social studies teacher at Chesapeake who cut out all the cats. "Instead of 13, we ended up making 72."

Art teacher Sherrie Brown coordinated the project, drew the mouths and ears of each cougar in pencil, and has painted several herself. One, for her photography class, looks like a Southwestern sunset, with orange and red hues, with a gray box camera in the center. Another photography class made their cougar with a collage of their work from this year -- black-and-white photos of people, fire hydrants and other subjects.

The student most involved in the project is J. Ryan Brooks, a senior who has taken art all four of his years at Chesapeake and plans to study painting and drawing at Anne Arundel Community College in the fall.

For the art department's cougar, he painted a remarkably accurate copy of Salvador Dali's The Persistence of Memory, with its limp watch faces.

Last week, Brooks was finishing up a cougar for the science department, which featured a beaker, planets, stars and equations. "A lot of teachers didn't know what to do, so I thought I'd help them out," he said. "Chesapeake doesn't have that many displays with artwork. The walls are pretty plain. This will be a nice touch. This will add a little extra."

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