Linocut prints created by students in Shane Wiggs’ class

We love getting news from workshops around the country. Two exciting emails came from Shane Wiggs of Austin High School in El Paso, Texas. In December, he sent us photos of an incredible collaborative projecthis students had completed using The Memory Project Face-to-Face workshop as a guide. 

He followed that up with another project this spring. His students created a series of stunning linoleum cut portraits of Memory Project subjects. We featured them as portraits of the month in June.

Shane’s been teaching art for 15 years and received the Dr. Anna Steinberger Outstanding Educator Award for his work in Holocaust Education. We interviewed him about his work as an art educator and his experience using The Memory Project to teach about the Holocaust.

Q: Why do you think art education is important?

I like being able to give to kids that maybe aren’t the best in academics…or maybe they’re not athletic, but they have this talent and they’re not sure what to do with it. I like being able to help them find a path through life. 

I don’t think art should be subservient to anything. To me, there’s just too much emphasis on technology and it’s really reduced the ability to think. Art is a different kind of thinking. I try to shore up that part of visual spacial reasoning.

Q: Why do you think art is a successful tool when teaching about the Holocaust, and why is it important to you to teach about the Holocaust?

You can get to the heart of it so quickly…It makes it immediate. It makes it personal. And the reason is, so they know and so it doesn’t happen again, and to tie it to other atrocities.

Q: Were you able to see changes within people as they participated the Memory Project? In what way? 

Oh yeah! [The workshop] made it more personal than I could, which I really liked. The [subjects] are everyday people they can relate to. I like to point out that some of these [teenagers] were heroes. They were resistance. They were running printing presses or faking documents. Probably the people [on the other side] weren’t much older…They were your age, too.  So…[think about] what can you do at this age? You can do a lot more than you think. 

Q: Do you think that they found it to be relatable or inspirational?  

I think inspirational because [the subjects] are looking death straight in the face and acting anyway. These people are really not much different than you, but this is the time they found themselves in. They had to act and they chose to not go over the cliff with everyone else. 

Wlodimierz Daniluk, the one with the mustache, they’re so drawn to his face. But this guy was a bystander until he wasn’t…They can really relate to that…even if you’re not directly involved…maybe you can do something important. 

Q: Do you believe that the Memory Project made the Holocaust more tangible for them? 

These personal stories take it away from the millions [killed], which is hard to understand…It’s like tricking them into learning because they don’t know how connected they’re becoming in those 40 minutes to an hour that it takes them to draw. You’re really just thinking, okay this is black; this is white; this is gray. Then you start to see the beauty of the curve of the lip or the angle of an eyebrow, and then you’re entangled with it all of a sudden. 

I didn’t let them read the story of the person until they were done with the prints. And that print took a week and a half, two weeks! Then I let them read it, and then we printed it. They don’t even know how much of a connection they’re building. You can see tears in their eyes. They don’t get a whole lot of lessons like that!

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