Cheney Middle School's Schwendiman second in Holocaust art contest
Cheney eighth-grade student Larissa Schwendiman placed second in a regional Holocaust writing and art contest with this drawing of a fictional young girl "Sally" that represents the real-life dilemma of Anne Frank.
Like many people, eighth-grader Larissa Schwendiman is not one to talk openly about her feelings. Drawing is what she uses to communicate what she is thinking, and drawing also helps bring out another one of her talents — writing.
The Cheney Middle School student combined both of these elements for a class assignment that led to her placing second in the 7th/8th grade art division in the annual Holocaust Writing, Art & Digital Media Contest held by the Washington State Holocaust Education Resource Center in Seattle. Along with the drawing, in a style Schwendiman calls “animation” or “anima” for short, she also wrote a poem about a fictional character, Sally, who is Jewish and in hiding under a situation similar to a real-life individual whose story is well-known: Anne Frank.
Schwendiman was learning about the Holocaust in eighth-grade language arts teacher Stacy Spakousky’s class when she and her classmates were given an assignment to produce a piece about the Nazi Germany extermination campaign during World War II. If the assignments were turned in on time, it would be entered in the contest.
“It sounds like a grade so I should probably do something,” Schwendiman said of her thinking.
Spakousky heard about the contest after attending a Holocaust conference last spring. She said there were free resources for Washington state teachers to use, and after sending an inquiry “a massive trunk was shipped to me with a variety of materials and lesson plans to enhance my Anne Frank unit.”
After an introduction to World War II, Frank and the Holocaust, students were given a choice between the writing or art portion of the contest, and had to select one of five themes for their pieces: children, rescue, resistance, liberation or refugees.
“We spent some time further researching and students then had about a month to do research, complete rough drafts and have peers/parents critique and evaluate their work for revisions,” Spakousky said in an email.
The topic of children stood out to Schwendiman, and while she played with several ideas, she kept coming back to Frank’s experience.
“I thought maybe I could look for someone else, but hers stood out to me,” she said. “How could she withstand not knowing how or if she was going to die?”
Schwendiman said she also gained inspiration for her drawing and the accompanying poem after watching a YouTube video on child abuse, where the recurring theme centered around the line “Hello, my name is…” This fit well with her preferred anima drawing style, which she views as more detailed than typical cartoon-style drawing and highlighted by larger-than-life, expression-filled eyes.
“I just feel like it’s my style,” she said. “It’s what makes me, me.”
Schwendiman’s drawing was evaluated as one that should be entered in the Holocaust contest, which is open to students from Washington, Oregon and Idaho. It was one of over 700 entries from 64 classrooms competing in seven categories in this year’s contest running Nov. 1, 2013 to April 25, 2014.
Cheney eighth-grader Larissa Schwendiman
According to the Holocaust Education Resource Center’s website, a panel of judges composed of educators, artists and writers of various faiths and backgrounds evaluated the entries, looking for “creativity, thoughtfulness and an understanding of the question.” Judges also looked at how the entry related to a specific Holocaust event, testimony or text, and a depiction of its relationship personally to the contestant.
Schwendiman said the Holocaust and similar historical events such as slavery and the persecution of blacks make her “angry and sad.” The drawing and poem are her way to express these feelings. When asked if the Holocaust has relevance today, she replied, “If it doesn’t, it should.”
“We did something terrible. We have over and over again,” Schwendiman said. “Whether we choose to learn from it or not is the question. Nothing ever stops until you stop it.”
Schwendiman will be honored along with other winners and placers at a banquet this week in Seattle.
John McCallum can be reached at email@example.com.