NEW LENOX – To reproduce Vincent Van Gogh's "Starry Night on a child's chair, Sophia Gomez, 11, created stars with splashes of yellow paint.
"I thought it was the coolest chair in the world," Sophia said. "I wanted to keep it for myself."
Tammy Kordik, artist and art teacher at Nelson Ridge and Nelson Prairie schools in New Lenox, won't pass up opportunities to share her love of art and art history with her students and that includes those 27 fifth and sixth graders she mentors at Nelson Ridge’s art club.
So when Kordik bought eight little school chairs at a market, she couldn't resist putting using them for a project that simultaneously accomplished all her goals: having her art club students to reproduce eight pieces of famous artwork on those chairs so the younger students could sit on them when flipping through art history books.
"I always find ways to bring art into my classroom," Kordik said. "As a child, I always loved books. But the thing I liked about them was the pictures."
Art, art history and kids are one blended joy for Kordik, who began drawing animals in grade school, painting oil landscapes in high school and then decided, in college, that she preferred working with the kids and encouraging their creativity than simply making her own fine art.
Thus inspired, Kordik changed her major to art education – graduating from Northern Illinois in 1983 – and is now working on a master's degree in painting from Governor State University.
When her own children were small, Kordik painted murals as a side job. She takes especial delight in painting – from her original photographs – the stages of life of the many different kinds of leaves, which mimic her own journey through life, Kordik said.
However, through teaching art, Kordik has expanded her use of mediums beyond oils.
"I've done sculpture and printmaking, for myself and with the kids," Kordik said. "I also love acrylics for the speed of it."
The first time Kordik accepted the challenge of painting a three-dimensional surface was in 2004, when she participated in "Benches on the Avenue" in Tinley Park. Kordik called her bench "Education: The Benchmark of Our Children's Future," and illustrated key components of an excellent education: create, explore, participate, dream, discover.
Kordik had intended to paint the chairs herself, one or two at a time during the summer. But while seeking a new service project for the art club (in the past, they had made placemats for nursing home residents, Kordik said), Kordik suddenly realized she already had the raw ingredients for one.
"They (art club students) worked on it as a group," Kordik said. "They learned about the artist, the colors, the size brush to use and that it was a lot more challenging to paint something three-dimensional than a flat surface."
The project began last fall and was not completed until April. The students painted canvas board – which would become the chair's backs, covering the slats – and painted directly on the chairs themselves. The results amazed Kordik.
"The group I had this year was unbelievably talented," Kordik said. "I knew they would be able to pull this off, but they exceeded my expectations."
Sophia Gomez, 11, one of the students that worked on it, felt the project started off hard, but grew easy as it progressed, especially knowing its end result: fostering a love of good art in children.
"Art can bring out happiness in a child," Sophia said. "A kid can be having a bad day, but maybe he'll come home and there will be new crayons on the table. He can draw whatever he wants."
Kordik's family even contributed to the project. Her daughter Christa suggested the Mona Lisa’s skirt be carried over the chair’s seat. Kordik's husband Mike coated the chairs with an acrylic sealer and then screwed the paintings onto the chairs.
Before arranging them in the art room for the younger students' use, Kordik and her art club students showcased their work before an entire school assembly of 500 people. Kordik said.
Kordik said she knew the hard work was worth it the day the younger students played a memory game with little cards featuring artists and their work.
“They recognized a couple of them from the chairs,” Kordik said.