Catholic Sentinel photos by Ed Langlois
Karen Cruikshank teaches techniques like impressionism at St. Anthony School.
Catholic Sentinel photos by Ed Langlois

Karen Cruikshank teaches techniques like impressionism at St. Anthony School.

TIGARD — As art education wanes in many public schools, St. Anthony's here has been offering the subject with a Catholic flourish.

This summer, the hallway walls are bare. But next fall, the square footage will steadily fill up with student work and many projects will have a clear Catholic character. Fourth graders will create ceramic rosaries and sixth graders will fashion crosses. Another class writes icons, consulting with an expert iconographer. This year, one boy gave his icon of St. Michael the Archangel, patron of law enforcement, to his father, a policeman. The burly man wept.  

In the fall, students will learn color theory, mix paint, practice stippling and use acrylic on acetate. They will study texture and highlighting, in addition to art history and its links to the church and spirituality.

Presiding over the St. Anthony movement is Karen Cruikshank, who believes anyone can do art. "Some walk in the door oozing with talent," says the tall, graceful teacher. "The others learn." She warns that if schools start teaching art too late in a youngster's career, the child may already have concluded that he or she can't do it.

"Parents of math and science students say their kids don't always use the artistic side of their brains," says Cruikshank, who spends an hour per week with each class. She notes that many medical schools, for example, now require fine arts classes to develop better-rounded graduates.

First graders create wacky paper birds that have a lot of personality. The creatures are perched all over the school. Fifth graders paint in the style of VanGogh. Others study Georgia O'Keefe's style. One class learns a 15th-century technique called scratchboarding. Eighth graders do impressionist painting while seventh graders develop pencil drawing.

The pieces show a lot of variety. Cruikshank believes in giving latitude within the confines of the project. For example, the beads of one fourth grade boy's rosary are tiny ceramic footballs and basketballs. Many students say they keep their rosaries for years on their bed stands.

Cruikshank, a member of St. Pius X, recently made a pilgrimage to the healing waters of Lourdes with her husband Ken, who has multiple sclerosis. It was a decade ago on a retreat for catechists at Mount Angel Abbey that she decided to become a teacher. The notion came to her: Gifts are to be shared.  

She has no office, but rolls about the hallways with her art cart, which is made of recycled wood.

Though money is not the point of art here, the program has been a successful fundraiser. At the last school auction, student art brought in $30,000.

Cruikshank, a supporter of Portland's art tax, says art is at risk of becoming for rich kids, whose parents can pay for lessons or camps. "Educated people have always been educated in the arts," she says. "It's part of being a good citizen."