Pekin Community High School art students enrolled in classes get more than assignments, projects and grades. Amy Psinas, Cultural Studies Department chairperson at PCHS for the first year, said they get to learn how to stay involved with art beyond their high school years and that it can be a career.

“In class we teach volunteering, respect, rapport, enhancing creativity and verbal responses with our critiques,” Psinas, also an art teacher, said. “We recognize that is what kids need with life whether they’re going to college or entering the workforce.”

Enrollment in art classes have increased in Psinas’ 28 years at PCHS. Anyone who takes an art class must begin with Art One which is all 2-dimensional work such as drawing with charcoal, working with pastels, learning the elements and principles of design and some art history. It is one semester long.

The next step everyone must pass is taking Art Two. That class does 3-dimensional work such as glass, print making, clay, wire and plaster. 

After students complete both semesters, they may enroll in other classes such as studio ceramics, drawing, digital photography, painting, glassworks or independent study.

Their work is seen beyond the walls of the high school. Each year for the last 8 years, the glassworks class has been asked to design the Pekin Marigold Festival Medallion. This year junior Zariah Wherry’s design was selected. 

PCHS art students also display their work at CJ’s Café, 404 Court Street. Psinas said they update the artwork once a month.

“We’ve been doing this for a couple of years,” she said. “We have the kids write their parents a postcard and mail them home as an official announcement of when their artwork will be displayed. We usually have photography projects that hang on the walls (at CJ’s Café) in the summer.” 

Dallas and Jill Pettingill own CJ’s Café. They are happy to display the artwork.

“The parents of the high school kids really like that their kids have a public place to display their artwork,” said Dallas. “It’s always really unique. The wire sculptures were neat. We enjoy it. I like seeing the local talent and the customers enjoy it, too.”

Those enrolled in painting help brighten Schramm School’s teacher workroom. The date is mutually agreed upon and the PCHS students paint a mural seasonally.

They also participate in service projects. Recently they designed and constructed a 4-feet by 8-feet string art PCHS dragon. Psinas said it took a month for 40 students to work on it and complete it. They used 8,000 nails during the construction. The piece was donated to the high school.

Art students have also helped PCHS Student Council by creating and building the backdrops for a live performance of a Dr. Seuss book held at Pekin Public Library in honor of Dr. Seuss’ birthday in March. They also have a service project of sorts in November.

“One of the fun things we do in November is a sketchbook assignment called postcard to my teacher,” Psinas said. “We let the kids pick a teacher, an administrator, counselor, custodian or coach. Then we have them draw a picture and write a thankful thought. By the time we leave for Thanksgiving, every staff member gets something from an art student. The kids would come back and find the teacher had either hung up the card or said something to the student. That’s a fun thing to do, and the kids want to do those.”

The art students are also involved in helping community organizations. They contract with the water company who donates three or four fire hydrants to the PCHS art department. Students paint them and the finished products are auctioned off at the annual AMBUCS Auction. Psinas said the most one has sold for is $500.

Art students can get community service hours by participating in a number of face painting times throughout the school year. Psinas said she tries to participate in community events when it is possible because they do get requests on a regular basis. However, some requests are for projects art students will not do.

“We get requests we won’t do like painting someone’s wall,” she said. “Now if it is a mural, we try to help but sometimes people will call and ask for things that they need to hire out to do. Our district supports us and our programs. Our kids can give back and should learn how to give back.”

There is an evening at PCHS where students from all classes have the opportunity to show a project they’ve been working on called Dragon Pride. Psinas said the art students demonstrate their art skills during that time. It is free and open to the public.

Tables were set up that evening and students conducted live demonstrations with printmaking and etching, oil pastels, string art, pencil drawing, watercolor painting, painting on canvas, ceramic glazing and more.

Sophomore Marissa Overholt did a woodburning demonstration. She said it was fun and did not involve much preparation.

Senior Lexie Tomevi is enrolled in independent study with art teacher Katie Holeton. It was her first year as a demonstrator during Dragon Pride. She and sophomore Chloe Karanovich both worked on wheel-thrown ceramics that evening.

“It really shows how diverse our school is and all our creativity,” said Karanovich. “I’ve always liked clay. There are no guidelines.”

PCHS art students have several chances outside of school to showcase their work. They are allowed to submit up to two pieces for the Contemporary Art Center High School Juried Show. Psinas said they treat it like they would an adult juried show and a juror will either accept or deny their work. She said she talks with students ahead of time about not getting discouraged if their piece is denied, and said this is “a real experience.” Those pieces are out on display during the reception mid-April.

There are also local politicians who value art and open up contests to local art students. In the 17th Congressional District, Congresswoman Cheri Bustos has a contest where people could vote online. Then on May 5, there was a reception at Peoria Art Guild. Bustos keeps the winning piece up in her Washington D.C. office and then the other top five pieces in her satellite offices.

There were 58 entries this year from across the district for the 2018 Congressional Art Competition. 

“I have always been a strong supporter of the arts in our schools. Art education better prepares our children for the future by fostering creativity and allowing them to explore diverse cultures and ideas,” said Bustos. “Every year I am blown away by the incredible artwork we receive from across our region. I am honored to have the opportunity to share the work of these amazing young artists from our community with the rest of the country.”

Another contest is the 18th Congressional District Art Show. Psinas said that some students live in the 17th District and some in the 18th District and that is why they participate in both art shows. The overall winner of this contest will have his or her artwork displayed in the Cannon Tunnel which is the tunnel between the House of Representatives and the Senate in Washington D.C. It will remain on display for a school year. Psinas said PCHS has had five winners since she has been working at the high school. The piece to be considered must be 2-dimensional, 24” x 24” and no deeper than 4” including the frame. 

There were seven students who entered artwork but none were selected as winners this year.

The art teachers also take their students on field trips that pertain to the arts. All Psinas’ glassworks students chose a piece to research and talk about during their Peoria Sculpture Walk field trip. By doing this, each student was responsible for teaching the other art students about his or her piece along the way.

In February, they have the chance to meet one on one with an Illinois Central College instructor and may bring up to five pieces. The instructors select one piece per student to feature on display at ICC for the month of February.

Students have also gotten traveled to Wildlife Prairie Park to sketch animals while digital photography students took pictures of animals.

Psinas is pleased with the art department at PCHS. She said there are between 350 and 400 art students over the course of a school year.

“There are a vast number of choices to enhance what they’d like to learn,” said Psinas. “The longer I’m here, the more I feel it’s my job to educate youth with art in and beyond the classroom to let them know there are opportunities to use and create art beyond high school. It’s fun. My work is fun. I’ve been fortunate that our district gives us the flexibility to work these projects into our curriculum.”