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St. Paul students paint their heroes' portraits

Cary Ashby • Jan 12, 2019 at 9:00 PM

St. Paul High School students Isabella Cuturic and Hannah Phillips were pleased with the way their portraits of relatives turned out. 

It was their first time doing such a project with watercolor. Phillips said the painting required patience since she had to let one layer dry before adding another one.

“You had to take it slow and do layers,” added the daughter of Dan and Laura, of Berlin Heights.

Another challenge facing art teacher Christine Galati’s students was mixing the paint to get the appropriate skin tone. Once they found the right color, they saved it in a covered pie shell so the next time they were in class all they had to do was add some water.

“That was the hardest part,” said Cuturic, who painted her mother Lucy.

Each of Galati’s students choose a hero to paint. Some of the teenagers selected celebrities — from LeBron James to Pope Francis and Kim Namjoon, the main rapper and leader of the South Korean “boy group” BTS. Other students chose veterans while some, like Cuturic and Phillips, painted portraits of their relatives.

“We began this unit by viewing an episode from PBS Civilizations series, called ‘How Do We Look?’ It explores creative depictions of human beings throughout history and from many cultures,” Galati said.

included in the series was the art work of Kehinde Wiley, a contemporary artist who creates heroic portraits of African-Americans, including the presidential portrait of Barack Obama.

“We looked at another artist, Chuck Close, who is famous for his large, grid-based portrait paintings. Close is an exceptional role model for students in that although he is a quadriplegic, he maintains a positive outlook and an incredible work ethic. Tying all of this together was the question of what qualities make one a hero. Students answered this question for themselves visually with a watercolor resist painting and with written artist statements,” Galati said.

Cuturic chose her mother partly because of their close relationship.

“She’s always been a role model for me and helped me a lot,” the freshman said.

Cuturic and Phillips used photographs for the basis of their portraits.

“It helped a lot,” said Cuturic, who was challenged with “getting the different values in there.”

Phillips selected her grandfather, Dale Petrill, from the Wellington area, as her hero. He served in the Vietnam War and eventually was a victim of Agent Orange.

“It damaged his liver and other organs, so he needed a transplant,” his granddaughter said.

A combination Petrill being a dentist, helping people and his faith make him a hero to his granddaughter.

“He always shared that (faith) with me. He never covered that up,” Phillips said.

The teenager didn’t tell him she was painting his portrait. In fact, this story might be the first time her grandfather might discover that.

One of Phillips’ biggest challenges was capturing her grandpa’s essence, especially the depth in his eyes.

“I was happy it actually looked him,” she said. 

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