It's a day off school and five high school students are visiting an art studio. The girls, members of the South Mecklenburg High School National Art Honor Society (NAHS), could have spent the day relaxing, doing homework or working, but they chose to pursue art.
"Usually, I don't have the opportunity to experience art outside school because I'm so busy," said Wesley Bonnin, 15, a sophomore who joined NAHS this year and is taking a ceramics class this year. "It's fun to learn about different aspects of art outside of school. It's not about thinking in numbers or even logically; there are no exact rules to follow - which I like. Art lets you be more creative."
Merideth Hunter, 16, enjoys the freedom to make art, especially ceramics.
"Junior year is crunch year; I'm about to graduate and go off in the world," said Hunter, a first-year NAHS member whose artwork cover of "To Kill A Mockingbird" is on display at the school. "I want to take advantage of art before it's too late. It allows you to express yourself."
Visiting with Tom Snyder, artist and owner of Designer Glass Mosaics in Pineville, is an example of a fun art experience for the students, said Ellen Estes, sponsor of the school's NAHS for 14 years and a ceramics art instructor at South Mecklenburg. Art teacher Gayle Bohlen is co-sponsor of the group.
Snyder met the group recently when he was invited to speak at the fall induction ceremony for new members by his neighbor, NAHS President Madeline Long, 17, a senior at the school.
At his studio, Snyder gave the "soup to nuts" tutorial on how to make a three-dimensional piece.
"We do several projects each year, and the visit to Tom's studio gives the students a chance to make a piece of artwork, bring it to school where it adds to the aesthetic environment, possibly enter it into a contest and take it home to enjoy," said Estes.
The club meets twice a month after school and has been recognized as "Club of the Year," for eight of its 14-year history.
"When I first started NAHS, I wanted the students to use their artistic talent in every service project," said Estes. "But when I asked the students what they want to do and what they care about, they told me they want to make their school and community a better place to live. They also have a more global vision."
The club hosts fundraisers and events each year and several have become South Meck traditions, said Long, who has been involved with NAHS for the past three years. She said she decided to run for president of the group this year as a way of giving back to her school's art program, which has been hit hard by budget cuts.
"When we sponsor programs such as pictures with Santa for the holidays and make the holiday background, it's festive for our students and helps raise money to support our own art program," said Long. "For each fundraiser that we host, we give half the money we raise to our art program and half to a community organization, such as a local food bank."
She said NAHS also sponsors homecoming artwork and for this year's "Welcome to the Jungle" theme, club members painted a Tarzan and Jane board with circles for students to "put your face in." Other fundraisers included a "spring break" version of the photo board and jewelry designed and sold by club members for Valentine's Day.
NAHS students painted the school rock as part of a Carolina Panthers spirit contest. Still waiting to find out the judges' decision, the theme on the rock was Superman telling the Panthers to win in 10 different languages spoken at South Meck.
"I designed and helped paint Superman on the rock," said Ana Montesdeoca, 15, a sophomore and second-year NAHS member who hopes to pursue art in college. "That project and others helps make people aware of what we do, taking our creativity to a whole new level."
"I like everything about art," she said. "Art is the thing where I can find myself and put out what I want to say to the world."
Last year, the group painted murals at two elementary schools, Sterling Elementary and Smithfield Elementary, said Long.
One global project that the group chose to do last year and again this year, said Estes, is the Memory Project. It involves returning a photograph of a child in the form of a painted portrait to children who live in orphanages in Third World countries so that they have something of their own.
"It's a life-changing experience for our students to know they are making an original piece of art for a child who has very little to call his own," said Estes.