Photo by Cynthya Porter
Pictured at right is an extra large canvas painting featuring the artistic talents of students and staff at Rollingstone Elementary.
by Sarah Squires
"Art is simple and direct and beautiful, and it communicates a thousand words."
Mary Nilles repeats the sentence, first said by Connie Rader. She says it encompasses the project "Hemecht: Luxembourgers in Winona County, Minnesota, 1857-2007."
And it does.
Over 300 pieces of art created by local students are lining the walls of the Bell Art Room in the Winona Public Library, and a grand opening for the display is set for Saturday, January 6 from 2-4 p.m.
It isn't just any art. It's part of a yearlong celebration that stretches from here to Luxembourg, and it will connect Winona County kids with Luxembourgers in a way that breaks open language barriers, inviting kids to help everyone remember the history of yesterday, as well as the history we make today.
The theme for "Luxembourg 2007" is immigration, and the artwork depicts architecture, images of immigrants, family trees and life in Winona today. The artwork will serve more than one purpose, and images will be scanned and shared with kids in Luxembourg, too.
Luxembourg is the European Community "Culture Capital of Europe" for 2007, which provides the backdrop for this project. Nilles said that there will be events in Winona County throughout the year as part of this celebration, made possible through a grant from the Luxembourg Ministry of Culture.
The Winona County grant is the only related grant specifically focusing on bringing students into the project. "And we do that on purpose," said Nilles. "We know that history and culture has got to be taught to the children. In a way, we're saying to the kids of the county that this is a group of people who came, and they made a contribution."
Many in Winona County have ties to Luxembourg, said Nilles. In the 1860s and 1870s, Luxembourg lost about one third its population to immigration, and many of those who left settled in Southern Minnesota. The theme for the student art display helps tell that tale, with images depicting the welcome of the Statue of Liberty, the covered wagons used to roll across the prairie, what home really means.
And the students are learning that history happens every day, too. Many students chose the category "My home, my community," and drew or painted or photographed their own lives, towns and homes. "They depict something of value and beauty that we can share with Luxembourg," said Nilles. "It doesn't need the printed language.
"We also see a reflection of the interests of the children," she added. "Here you have kids remembering the past, and capturing it in art. They put their lives down on canvas."
Nilles, a Rollingstone native and professor at New York City College of Technology and the City University of New York, said this event will launch a series of projects around the world, aimed at promoting and honoring the heritage of Luxembourgers who emigrated so long ago. The language, Letzebuergesh, is being preserved in Luxembourg through a local mandate, and the word "Hemecht," the title of the project, means "home."
"This is a show that's international. It unites Winona County with the rest of the world," said Nilles.
The student art will be on display in the Bell Room for two months, but the grand opening for the display will feature cookies, prizes and an appearance by Mayor Jerry Miller. The event will begin at 2 p.m. on Saturday, and will provide the chance to talk to some of the young artists. "The other thing about the show is that it's fun," said Nilles.
Some of the upcoming projects related to "Hemecht: Luxembourgers in Winona County, Minnesota, 1857-2007" include a presentation on treipen (blood sausage) at the Historical Society's Food For Thought on January 17. The Marnach house in Elba, an example of Luxembourg-style architecture, will be featured at the Winona Arts Center with a grand opening on Friday, February 2.
Nilles' New York students are also contributing to the project, and have designed a poster for each event to help catch an eye, or an ear, and draw people in to participate. "It's certainly intergenerational," she said. "It's pretty terrific."