Denise Fedorow
Freelance Writer
March 14, 2023 // Diocese

Marian High School’s Award-Winning Art Programming Blossoming

Denise Fedorow
Freelance Writer

Marian High School art teachers Gina Bonewitz and Elaine Desmarais are elated about the news that their students received 222 awards at the Scholastic Regional Art Competition this year.

“We are really proud of the program. The kids are really invested,” said Bonewitz, Fine Arts Department Chair at Marian for the past 19 years.

She said the awards really “bumped up the last two years — last year we had 240 awards, and before that it was 113.”

The Scholastic Art Competition is nearly 100 years old and Bonewitz said some students are able to get scholarships based on the awards they’ve won.

She said they recently added categories to the competition of Special Regional Award and Honorable Mention. The competition begins at the regional level and is held at the Century Center in South Bend. There are several categories, including drawing, painting, graphic art, photography, digital art, fashion design, mixed media, ceramics, sculpture, production, and many more.

Photos provided by Gina Bonewitz
Marian High School student Helen MacWilliams poses with her Gold Key Award visual voice-winning portfolio of ceramic sculptures from the Scholastic Art Competition.

Award winners receive either an Honorable Mention, Silver Key, or Gold Key. There are a few special awards, too. Students receiving a Gold Key go on to the national competition.

Bonewitz explained the entries had to be submitted last fall around the holidays and the teachers were notified at the end of January of the awards won. Bonewitz, who teaches photography and ceramics said for the 3D art students that for ceramics, it is “the only show they can enter locally.”

Students from all four grades enter the competition and Bonewitz said the awards are scattered amongst the grade levels. She said some students just take the art class as an elective and are surprised when they win while others are planning on pursuing art after high school and enter all four years.

Pictured on the left is Marian High School student Hailey Abbott’s Gold Key Award piece “Maggie’s Mind” from the Scholastic Art Competition.

Bonewitz estimates they submitted about 600 entries to this year’s competition. She doesn’t know how that compares to other schools, but she believes the total number of entries for their region was approximately 3,000. She said there is no limit on the number of entries per school, but they did limit the number of photography entries to 16 per student.

“The kids are fired up! It makes me happy that they’re excited about entering,” she said. “Because it’s not a requirement.”

She added, “We really promote it and encourage the students to keep working to make it their very best work.”

Pictured above is Marian High School student Layne Schmitt’s Silver Key Award piece “Monster” from the Scholastic Art Competition.

Culture of Art Appreciation

Teacher Elaine Desmarais, who has taught art for 16 years and has been at Marian since 2019, talked about what she thinks has attributed to the success of the students and the school.

“Having a culture of appreciation of arts at the school,” Desmarais said, “we have a really good reputation and students seek us out. It comes from the top down — the appreciation of the importance of the arts.”

She said the Fine Arts Department also has “very healthy financial support” with quality materials and equipment. She said they have college-level printing machines and photo enlargers, for example.

“We’re doing things at Marian I didn’t do until college,” she said. Desmarais teaches 2D art — drawing and painting, among others.

She said the students think the art competition is cool. “It’s up there with winning a sectional game,” she laughed. “It’s a key part of our identity at Marian.”

Pictured here is Marian High School student Riley Collins’s Gold Key Award piece “Carrie Cameleon” from the Scholastic Art Competition.

Desmarais said she and Bonewitz are coaches. They give the students the tools and techniques to build their skills and enable them to embrace and take ownership of their art work. She said the art is student-driven but as teacher-coaches, they don’t hold back in telling them how to edit their work to bring out their best.

She said that she and Bonewitz have “very high expectations and the students always meet them. This is an expectation of excellence and it’s done positively.”

“Our classes are packed. We have six classes each — one more than expected.”

When asked if many of their students go on to careers in art, she responded that a lot of the skills they learn can be integrated into a lot of degrees — that thinking outside the box and working collaboratively are just a couple. She said this year, there are five seniors who plan to go into the art field — one in fine arts, one in animation, another in art education, one in architecture, and one in advertising.

Pictured here is Marian High School student Helen MacWilliams’s Silver Key Award piece “Lil’ Dusty and his Friend” from the Scholastic Art Competition.

Religion in Art

Desmarais said religion in art is also incorporated into the curriculum, especially, “how the Church was the main patron of the arts for centuries.”

She said some of the students focus on the Virgin Mary in their art, while others participate in the Right to Life poster contest.

Desmarais believes it’s important to “allow students to have an authentic voice. Anytime I let students have their authentic voice, they were more invested and did their very best work,” she said. “It’s amazing to see them get a Gold Key!”

Bonewitz and Desmarais tell their students that they are artists and the art class is their studio. Bonewitz said they have more than 40 Gold Key winning pieces going to nationals. They’re not sure when or where that will occur yet, but it is usually held in New York.

Desmarais added, “Another reason I think Gina and I are successful is because we love it! We’re so passionate and we’re both practicing artists and we put our work out there, too. That love and passion for art is translated to the students.”

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