The Sketchbook Legacy Project at Meadowlark Middle
For more pictures, go to Your Permanent Record
The books in the Sketchbook Legacy Project can be viewed online at Sketchbook Legacy
To see a video Miller created, go to YouTube
To learn more about Art for Art’s Sake, go to AFAS
By Kim Underwood
Winston-Salem/Forsyth County Schools
SEPTEMBER 10, 2020 – Over the years, filling sketchbooks with her writing and art has meant a lot to Elizabeth Miller who teaches art at Meadowlark Middle.
She has filled perhaps 100 sketchbooks with her thoughts, pictures she drew, collages she created, and more.
“Creating art in a sketchbook is deeply personal, relaxing, and serves as a way to document time,” Miller said.
“Art is a place where you can say whatever you need to say.”
Thinking that creating sketchbooks would be a valuable experience for her students as well, since 2007, she has had her art students create sketchbooks in class. Some students’ sketchbooks began as novels connected to a song, and students would add their thoughts and art to the book. Other students began working in blank sketchbooks.
In teaching her students to create in a sketchbook she emphasized the point that the marks you make as an artist are entirely your own and show a part of the life that only you know.
When Miller learned about a sketchbook project sponsored by Brooklyn Art Library in which people from around the world were invited to leave their legacy by filling sketchbooks with their art and having the books put on permanent display, it sparked something in her.
She wanted to start having students create sketchbooks that could be shared with the wider community.
Students embarked on the Sketchbook Legacy Project while students were still going to the school building. It became something more as students began working at home.
“The time at home gave a unique opportunity for students to focus on something outside of their current situation, process their feelings, and distress,” Miller said.
In the correspondence with her students her instructions included such comments as: “I don't want art to stress you out, I want it to be the breath of fresh air during this crazy time. Work diligently and use this as a place to think, reflect, and relax.”
The project continued to grow as she connected with Art for Art’s Sake – a local nonprofit organization that promotes the arts - and with the Forsyth County Public Library, which offered to put the sketchbooks on display.
Once Miller made the connection with Art for Art’s Sake and the library, she was able to say to the students that they had a unique opportunity to leave a legacy in our city.
“Creating in a sketchbook is deeply personal and shows a view of the world that only the artist can see,” said Miller.
“Especially in a time where the world feels weird. Art provides a safe space to process feelings and create a sense of hope. Art can do that.”
“And these sketchbooks did this for eighth-graders that finished their year online.”
“To create these marks and leave them in a public place is a huge honor.”
Student Sabrina Shobe said, “I mean I think It’s amazing that we got to do this. This book truly has meaning. I spent hours upon hours on mine and I was sad to see it go because that art was through a lot. It kept me inspired and I've done so much art since! I've done four more art journals since! I'm currently on my fifth. I don't intend to forget anything that happened this year.”
Student Delaney Garber said, “This has been a great year! I did not expect to be ending it like this though. But I am so glad to be involved with the Sketchbook Legacy Project.”
Student Reagan Grant said, “It's a cool feeling to be able to leave your mark on something, and that's how these books felt. It makes me happy to know that artwork I created will be on display for others to see and experience.”
Student Madison Hall said, “Everyone is a part of some sort of history but being in a written history seems so special to me.”
“People will be able to see what we have created for years upon years to come and that is astonishing to me. We really needed something special to end this year, especially with all that has been going on and i think this was a great finale to my middle school years.”
Miller created a sketchbook along her students that included art by all of her students mixed with her art and posted a video of this book online. It included art by student Ariana Rhymer.
“I saw my picture. And I really love it!” Ariana said.
Twenty-two sketchbooks created by students at Meadowlark Middle are now on display at the Central Library. The sketchbooks can also be seen online.
Miller hopes her students come away from it all with the sense that they are artists and with the desire to keep creating.
Here’s more on how it came to be:
After deciding to pursue the Sketchbook Legacy Project, Miller thought that Art for Art’s Sake might be a possibility for displaying the sketchbooks.
Art for Art’s Sake operates the Red Dog Gallery in the Downtown Arts District, and, on a field trip to the district during the second semester of the 2019-20 school year, Miller and art teacher Deidre Mullen stopped by the gallery with their students. There, they met Stewart Knight, an artist who sits on the AFAS board and volunteers with a number of AFAS programs.
“While working in the Red Dog Gallery last year,” Knight said, “I met Mrs. Miller, and Mrs. Mullen, and the wonderful students from Meadowlark Middle School while they were visiting the Downtown Arts District on their field trip.”
“We were able to provide the students with a safe place to leave their back packs while on their adventures and, when they would return, they would have a short sketch and focus session in our ARTivity Studios.”
“It was at this time I began speaking to the students about what I get to do as an AFAS artist. I was able to show the students a few of the commissioned art works and restoration projects I was working on at the time. I remember telling them how excited I was to be able to have started out just like they had – doodling and drawing in my sketch books and dreaming of being an artist one day.”
“And now I here I was – an artist and a teacher who was blessed to be working on preserving and repairing a piece of Winston-Salem art history and, as such, I was becoming a part of the rich and amazing history myself.”
“It was not long after Mrs. Miller presented the Legacy Sketchbook Project to me. Originally, we were thinking of housing the collection here at AFAS, and I knew I needed help for such an important undertaking.”
“So I reached out to the Forsyth County Public Library for direction on cataloguing, preserving and digitizing these little treasures. Through our conversations we decided to turn this over to the library as they would make the collection more accessible to a larger community and were able to house the potential growth of such a great program.”
“So I put Mrs. Miller in contact with the Library to begin digitizing, cataloging, and displaying the collection in their own special section of the library and, as they say, ‘The rest is history.’”
“I am thankful I was able to be a small part of this incredible opportunity to build a bridge between the Meadowlark students and the Forsyth County Public Library. I see this program as being a treasure – and an amazing open book to the future.”
“It is indeed a legacy and will, in time, be a wonderful insight into the wonderment, dreams, life and times of the talented youth here in Forsyth County.”
At the library, they worked with Amy Ruhe, the N.C. Collection Special Collections Librarian.
“The library has worked with Art for Art’s Sake in the past to create the Leave Your Mark books,” Ruhe said. “When Jess Schaefer (former Children's librarian) was approached about this project, she contacted us to see if we would be willing to house the collection.”
“We were interested and excited. The North Carolina Collection's focus is, of course, on items relating to North Carolina but particularly anything to do with Forsyth County and Winston-Salem. We liked the uniqueness of the project and the opportunity to draw attention to the creativity of our community's younger population.”
It was a valuable project both for the students and for the wider community, she said.
“They have the opportunity to use their creativity and also be a part of something a little bigger than your average school assignment.”
“We get the chance to see inside their thoughts and feelings about their community and the life they are living right now.”
Ruhe said she was impressed by “the detail and imaginative use of materials.”
The sketchbooks are on display in the North Carolina Collection on the second floor of the Central Library at 660 West Fifth St.
“If someone would like to look through a book, we can take it off display for them to view in the room, Ruhe said.
“We are excited to have this as a permanent part of the North Carolina Collection.”
“I have been excited to see the number of people stopping to look at the display and hoping, as things open up, more will take the time to come by and check out our student artists.”
Miller – who earned her bachelor’s degree at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro and her master’s degree at East Carolina University – is in her 16th year of teaching art.
The first Sketchbook Legacy Project was such a success that Miller plans a “second annual” project with her current eighth-grade art students. They will be working on their sketchbooks the first and second quarters of the year.
"I am excited to see how this year’s students leave their legacy through this project."
After seeing what students did last year, Campbell Knoll, who is in the eighth grade this year, said, “YES! I would love to do this project next year! This book is full of art and designs and its messy, but I like the messy. It reminded me of your bullet journal that you would show us.”
Campbell and other students are starting their book books this week.
Miller also envisions a “third annual…” and a “fourth annual…” and more.
“When I retire, I hope there are hundreds of these books,” Miller said.