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Artists in Residency Program combines multiple subject areas

April 7, 2011

Author P.J. Piccirillo and St. Marys Catholic Middle School student Landon Holjencin look through family archives at the Historical Society of St. Marys and Benzinger Township. Photo by Victoria Stanish.

Together with visiting artists, seventh grade students at St. Marys Catholic Middle School are finishing a multi-faceted project intertwining literature, art and history to reflect the experiences and strengths of the local community.
The individuals involved in the Artists in Residency program include P.J. Piccirillo, a writer, author and poet from Brockport, and Bernie Wilkie, a muralist/painter from Pittsburgh. Ray Beimel, local St. Marys historian, is also assisting with various aspects of the program.
This year's Artists in Residency program focused on the area's history. Students researched what daily life would have been like in years gone by and created characters based on their research to incorporate in stories. They also created a mural featuring their characters. The goal of the project was for students to learn intricate and detailed techniques for writing historical fiction and painting murals.
The project kicked off on January 25 and concludes on April 9, when students will unveil their painted mural at the St. Marys Catholic Elementary School System's annual Heritage Gala.
At the beginning of the project, students visited the Historical Society of St. Marys and Benzinger Township to conduct their research, reviewing various documents and noting any experience which interested them. They were assisted by Piccirillo and Beimel.
This aspect of the project acted as the catalyst through which students developed their characters, setting and their character's life experience.
From here, students eventually created the mural depicting local history through the stories they created. Wilkie worked with them on painting the piece.
Students were introduced to Piccirillo and Wilkie during a schoolwide assembly held over the winter. Both artists described the overall project, as well as their specific role in it and what students can expect by participating in the experience.
Piccirillo specialized in teaching students about writing historical fiction, while Wilkie was assigned to work with students on creating the massive mural.

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