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Valley High School art students' personalizations offer a heady salute

| Sunday, Jan. 13, 2013, 8:54 p.m.
This Donald Duck hat was created by student Abbe Ward. SUBMITTED
The valley High School hats in the gallery. SUBMITTED
Taymera Glover's peacock hat SUBMITTED
Valley News Dispatch
Zoee Ward, (right) and Celina Cecchetti work to make a piece of art out of hats during art class at Valley High School on Thursday, January 10, 2013. Jason Bridge | Valley News Dispatch
Valley News Dispatch
Celina Cecchetti glues a pear to a hat as she works to make a piece of art out of hats during art class at Valley High School on Thursday, January 10, 2013. Jason Bridge | Valley News Dispatch
Valley News Dispatch
Nico Regoli assesses how he wants to design a piece of art out of a hat during art class at Valley High School as Abbe Ward works on her project on Thursday, January 10, 2013. Jason Bridge | Valley News Dispatch
Valley News Dispatch
Addie Evans works on plastering her hat as she makes a piece of art out of a hat during art class at Valley High School on Thursday, January 10, 2013. Jason Bridge | Valley News Dispatch
A pink hat Addie Evans fashioned to honor her grandmother, Jan Evans, a four-year breast-cancer survivor. Submitted

Madisyn Tassone believes everybody should see or do something inspiring every day.

The freshman at Valley High School, New Kensington, and fellow visual-art students have found that personal inspiration in their latest group project. They responded to the challenge of teacher Prissy Pakulski to transform a common, everyday object into art that said something about themselves.

It has come to life in “Hats Off,” transforming headgear that they selected into three-dimensional sculptures on themes, from serious to light-hearted, of their choosing.

“This was an important project. I could express my feelings and, in the process, inspire someone to do something great,” Tassone says. “I learned that you could truly turn anything, including old hats, into art. My favorite thing about art is the freedom. You can draw or paint whatever is on your mind without judgment.”

Almost 30 students did just that, winning the plaudits of Jon Banko, Valley High principal.

“Our art department does an exceptional job of extending our students' creativity and inspiration, and ‘Hats Off' is yet another outstanding example of this,” he says. “While kids wearing hats in school continues to be a minor point of contention, I find that hats are just another way students try to foster their own individual style and, at times, show their allegiance to their favorite team or some other element of popular culture. This project extends that individualism through students' artistic interpretation of what these hats say about themselves or the topics they chose to represent.”

The results can be seen all month on the “Art in the Valley” wall at Allegheny Valley Hospital, Natrona Heights.

Tassone has fashioned buttons and feathers into a design that she hopes will elicit smiles, and freshman Nicholas Rivera employed a ball cap to demonstrates his love for football with his hat. “I liked doing something different than just drawing,” he says.

“I enjoy coming up with my own ideas and making them happen,” says freshman Stephanie Sandrick. She decided to use a tiara as the theme for her hat — “because I think every girl and boy should feel like a princess or prince, no matter what challenges they are facing.”

Senior Nicolas “Nico” Regoli hopes his gold fedora with the dark-red feather is seen as unique and that it “stands out and is creative in its own way, just like me.”

“ ‘Hats Off' was really cool, because it is was one of those projects that allow me to stand out from the rest of the crowd, and I like to take opportunities like that whenever I can,” he says.

He hopes that seeing all the hats together, displayed as if showcased in a hat shop, will elicit this response: “Wow! These kids have talent!”

“Art is really an outlet for me in all ways, allowing me to be as creative and free as I want to be, and it has shaped me into the young man I am today,” Regoli says.

Pakulski is pleased with the students' enthusiasm for the project. “The amount of cooperation and students seeing themselves as part of a whole made it priceless,” she says. “Each hat was created individually, but together, they offered a full display.”

A themed undertaking like this presents a challenge for students, she says, because “standing alone is a more-common approach to artistic creation.”

The project illustrates complex skills, asking for an awareness of how common objects become art, she says. “Students were asked to view the hat in a whole new light. They are customarily trained to see art as flat and wall pieces like painting and drawings. Seldom do they get an opportunity to express with a common, everyday object.”

After gathering headgear from discount stores, closets and other places, they were ready to begin. “We came to realize that hats come in all shapes and sizes, and these shapes and sizes offered a wide array of ideas and feelings,” Pakulski says.

The goal of a lesson like this is to place creative confines on the student, she says. “A gifted visual-expression artist can see an idea and concept in a form.”

Sophomore Todd Nemet combined a top hat with his love of nature, painting an outdoor setting at night on his hat. “Top hats remind me of vintage times, and I wanted to have a different, older look,” he says. “I've always liked nature and the setting with the moon and stars. I chose this look and made the perspective from the top of the hat out so that the woods look like they're almost spinning and join together.”

Taymera Glover, a sophomore, found the project “very fun and inspirational, a very creative way to express yourself.”

She expressed her fondness for peacocks with a baseball cap, finding its lid a perfect base for the body of her bird. “And the body of the hat was just perfect for the shapes of the feathers I chose to paint,” she adds.

Sophomore Matt Boreland recycled three empty cans of his dad's favorite energy drink because he liked the colors, then molded them with plaster and gauze to form a hat. “My biggest challenge was to get the cans to stick on the hat,” he says.

For Pakulski, the most-touching creation was the pink hat Addie Evans fashioned to honor her grandmother, Jan Evans, a four-year breast-cancer survivor. “She is an amazing woman and a survivor of one of the biggest challenges she will ever face,” the sophomore says. “I am a very creative person, and love to show it.”

Rex Rutkoski is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 724-226-4664 or

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