Since Veterans Day became a federal holiday in 1938, generations of workers and schoolchildren have looked forward to the holiday as day off.
However, like many other schools that now use the day to teach American history and the importance of recognizing those who have served in the Armed Forces, Hauser Junior High School in Riverside will be in session on Nov. 11.
But, some students at Hauser have spent a bit of time before the holiday reflecting on the significance of the day and expressing what veterans’ sacrifices have meant to them.
For the past few weeks, Hauser students have created an art project to be unveiled as part of the school’s annual Veterans Day program on Nov. 11. The project, a 4-by-8 foot mixed-media collage on canvas resembling the American flag, features student drawings and messages to veterans.
The project is the brainchild of art teacher Harjit Singh, who marks his 12th year at the school and was looking for a fun art project to start the school year. Searching the internet for inspiration, Singh stumbled upon the work of Jasper Johns, an American abstract expressionist painter and printmaker, and the idea was born.
“[Johns] resonated with me because I really liked some of his work,” Singh said. “I knew every fall we have a Veterans Day program, and one of Johns’ most famous paintings is of the American flag, so what I wanted to do was create a painting with my students in his style.”
To accomplish the piece, Singh said, students were able to work on their messages during the school week and began the collage construction during their weekly advisory class periods.
For several weeks, after introducing Johns’ work to his students, children in sixth through eighth grades wrote messages of hope and patriotism on newsprint paper, which Singh then collected to begin the initial layering process.
Then, in the mornings, students sifted through the papers and began affixing the pieces onto the large canvas-covered board.
Following the layering, students then painted the flag over the messages and images using gently thinned acrylic paint so the collage elements weren’t obscured.
Ultimately, Singh’s goal was to demonstrate that despite sharing one unified flag, there are many ways to show love and respect for America.
“The American flag is an umbrella on top of the representations of students,” Singh said.
To capture the art-making process, Hauser teacher Steven Jones used a GoPro camera to take photos and videos to create a video from start to finish. Along with the finished canvas, a short video will also be presented to the students, visitors and veterans on Veterans Day.
On Nov. 11, Hauser has an entire morning dedicated to honoring veterans, starting with the sixth-grade program from 8:45 to 9:30 a.m., followed by a reception for veterans from 9:30 to 10:15 a.m. and concluding with a seventh- and eighth-grade program from 10:15 to 11 a.m. The music department will feature student performances. Local veterans as well as family members of students are invited to Hauser to share in discussions and festivities.
“It’s a really great assembly,” Singh said. “It’s great for the veterans and it’s an awesome day. I feel like this is a great thing to have students experience.”
Singh says he hopes that the canvas will find itself a permanent home to be displayed for the community in the near future. Currently, he is exploring the possibility of displaying the piece at the North Riverside VFW.
Singh said he hoped the project made an impact on his students.
“I think they’ve enjoyed the process and I hoped they got a better sense of what the veterans have done for us and what the American flag actually symbolizes to them,” he added. “I hope they got a better sense of what that day is about by going through this process.”