Portraits during a pandemic: Art teacher re-creates masterpieces to delight her students

Tess Lewis recreates masterpieces to delight students.

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Tess Lewis recreates masterpieces to delight students.

“This is just another way that I hope to spread a little joy through art,” said Tess Lewis, a former Dayton resident

It all started when the Getty Museum in Los Angeles asked its followers to re-create their favorite works of art with whatever they could find in their own home while under quarantine.

"We challenge you to re-create a work of art with objects (and people) in your home," the Getty tweeted on March 25. They laid out three rules: "Choose your favorite artwork. Find three things lying around your house. Re-create the artwork with those items."

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This fun diversion prompted folks around the country to start sharing their re-creations with the museum. Tess Lewis’ approach to Getty’s challenge caught our eye.

Lewis, a former Dayton resident, is currently teaching art at Parker Woods Montessori, which is part of Cincinnati’s public school system. She was looking for ways to stay engaged with her students, and keep them excited about learning about art while at home. This challenge proved to be a brilliant way to do just that.

Using found objects, a clever use of clothing, and a bit of makeup, Lewis started re-creating her favorite masterpieces. Her husband, Nathan Lewis, a Northmont graduate and beloved local musician, lent a hand by taking the photos and making sure the lighting and angles were just right.

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The series is ongoing and can be found at her "Ms. Tess Makes a Mess" Facebook page. The re-created pieces range in style and era, from classic portraits to surrealism, and always include information about the artist and their inspiration.

“I’ve been trying to be creative in how to offer some art enrichment at home. My goal was to engage my students and expose them to art in a way that didn’t require art materials for them to participate,” Lewis explained in our interview.

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“Even if they were just seeing and reading about it, that is great. And now it has expanded beyond that. It’s an opportunity to advocate for art to my students, their families and my friends. This is just another way that I hope to spread a little joy through art.”

Unfortunately, not all of her students have access to the internet, so Lewis has also been working on ways to connect with those kids as well. “I have also been hand-making mini-sketchbooks and mailing them to my students. I have sent out over 100 so far. I am hoping to give my students a fun surprise in the mail and let them know how much I miss them all.”

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The response from Lewis’ students has been enthusiastic. They’ve been posting and sending in their own photos of paintings they’ve recreated, completed sketchbooks and art projects. One parent mentioned their kids have gone through all the paper in the house!

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Lewis has inspired not only her students, but also her friends and family in the Dayton area. “My friends also seem to get a kick out of it. I’m hoping it is a lighthearted break to the craziness of the coronavirus.”

Visit the Ms. Tess Makes a Mess for lots of fun art project ideas!

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