When Helena Banman’s art teacher gave the class an assignment to design an entry to Palliser Regional Schools’ annual holiday card contest, she immediately thought of ways to create something unique.
Remembering a photograph she saw of children tangled up in Christmas lights, she began drawing her cartoonish take — a whimsical reindeer seemingly content, wrapped in lights with a single ornament hanging from one antler.
“I wanted it to be a bit funny,” says the Grade 9 student at Carmangay Outreach School.
Her approach, trying to create something that stands out from a traditional Christmas card, worked. Her art was selected to be featured on Palliser’s holiday card. She received a supply of cards and envelopes to send to family and friends, as well as a $100 gift card to Chapters.
“I love Christmas,” she says. “It’s my favourite holiday. . . I like exchanging gifts and seeing the joy in other people’s faces when I give them.”
There was considerable joy on her face at the annual Barons/Carmangay school Christmas dinner Dec. 7. With more than 100 students, parents and school staff at Barons School for dinner, Banman was called to the stage for a surprise announcement that she’d won the art contest. Palliser trustee Don Zech presented her the prize.
“I realized what it was all about and I was shocked,” she says. “I did not expect that at all.”
Her parents, John and Katherina, were made aware of the surprise in advance, and thinking back on some of their conversations in advance of the Christmas party, Banman says there were hints she just didn’t pick up.
It seems winning art contests runs in the family. Her father won a similar contest when he was in Grade 6.
Banman says she’s always loved art and she finds it especially relaxing when she’s stressed out.
“I draw how I feel,” she says. “I like drawing nature or cute animals, or cartoon versions of anything.”
Her Christmas card design was intended to capture joy and humour, and she thought kids, especially, would like the bright lights and red-nosed reindeer.
The avid reader is excited to go on a “book spree” with her gift card, with an eye to mystery, adventure and graphic novels.
Carmangay art teacher Michael Shain has now had his students’ work featured on two of the last three Palliser cards. He uses the contest as an opportunity to share the art history of Christmas cards, which date back to the Victorian era. He shows students examples of cards from very traditional to more modern styles.
He often encourages his young artists to create hand-made cards for special occasions, and maintains a stock of blank cards suitable for water colour creations.
“For me that’s a really powerful thing,” Shain says of giving the gift of your own art creation. “There’s something very personal about a card you’ve created. . . You’ve put your own sentiment in it.”
In addition to discussing art history, Shain says he uses the card contest as an opportunity to discuss the language of the holidays such as joyfulness and gratitude. Students brainstorm words and then transfer those expressions and emotions to their art.
This is Shain’s second year as Palliser’s itinerant art teacher, sharing his expertise with students at Arrowwood, Milo, Champion, Carmangay and County Central High, which serves as his home base. He’s in the process of developing an online art history course for Palliser Beyond Borders, the division’s online school. In his travels, he works with about 250 students from elementary to high school, encouraging them to see the world differently by drawing it.
“Art is a skill you can teach,” he says. “It’s coachable. It’s learnable. It’s a valuable tool for reflecting on your own feelings and emotions.”