St. Francis School’s first art teacher, Donna Lutzky, stirred her students’ imaginations and talents with an endless array of artistic endeavors. For thirteen years (1991–2005), she explored media such as drawing, printmaking, bookmaking, papermaking, collaging, painting, ceramics and mosaics with her students at St. Francis. Whatever the art project and whomever the artists, Donna made certain creativity flourished in the classroom.
“She, in the art field, did all kinds of different things with kids, it wasn’t just one,” recalled fellow St. Francis teacher, Sister Kathleen Hepner. “Sometimes art teachers just have their field, and that’s all. She had ’em doing . . . the whole gamut of art, trying to help kids see that there was an artist in each child, and it might be different expressions of art, or different media, but, all of us are artists in our own way.”
Donna and her husband Frank Lutzky came to Bend in 1991 as the result of a leap of faith. “We couldn’t afford to live in New Jersey anymore – quit our jobs out there – moved here and figured, ‘The Lord will lead us.’” At St. Francis School, the Jersey transplant found much encouragement and potential for an art teaching position, but not much funding. “‘We have $1,000, what can you do with that?’’’ Donna recalled the principal asking her. That was a start, and she jumped at the opportunity. And from the very beginning, the kids – and the staff, too – were charmed and inspired by their creative new art teacher, and more funds were scraped together in order to keep her around.
Over her first four years at St. Francis, Donna didn’t have a dedicated art classroom. Instead, she went room to room, dragging her supplies on a wheeled cart. “I just traveled on an art cart,” she laughed. Finally, in 1995, a space was cleared out for the use of Donna and the student-artists.
The creative and ambitious art projects that the St. Francis kids worked on included drawing life-size mummy cases, to weaving tapestries on a loom, painting theater sets, to crafting Louise Nevelson-style boxes.
“She pulled awesome things from those kids,” Sister Kathleen enthusiastically recalled. “Really! And always tried hard to display them professionally, so that the kids could be proud of their work. And if she didn’t have a space in the art room, she put ’em together in such a way that we could put ’em up on our bulletin boards in the classroom. And they were gorgeous. I mean, what teacher wouldn’t have wanted to have those kids’ work up?”
One of the largest and most visible exhibitions completed under Donna’s supervision was a representation of the Gifts of the Holy Spirit. Done in fabric, it was the culmination of work and creativity of kids from all grade levels. The inspired installation hung in the skylight in St. Francis’ front hallway for almost a decade.
Beyond art styles and techniques, form and function, Donna Lutzky taught her students to see objects and circumstances in more than one way. For instance, in 1997, St. Francis’ students found themselves with a new art class space: one of the old bungalows behind the school. It was smaller than the school’s former art room and its floor plan presented some new issues for the teacher.
“It was challenging with an ‘L’ shaped classroom to get the kids’ attention,” recalled Donna. “And we were really jammed in there . . . and I had just a little office in the back and the kitchen for clean-up and supplies.”
But the students came to see it in a different, more positive way and soon looked forward to their regular treks out to the back of the campus. “The kids loved going over there [to the Art House],” said Donna. “They thought it was a treat, especially if it was snowing. So in the end, despite the cramped quarters, the relocation was for the best. After all, who knows what magnificent art those snowy treks inspired?
For Donna Lutzky, art has always been more than a job. It has been her way of life. In the years she taught at St. Francis, she dedicated herself to discovering the artist within each child. And in a mighty contribution to McMenamins’ original renovation of the old school in 2004, Donna designed and oversaw a ceramic-tile painting project done by St. Francis’ students and parishioners that is permanently installed for the ages.
She has since retired from elementary education and moved back east, but her artistic passion and explorations continue unabated. And we so appreciate Donna contributing her time and talents once more to the Old St. Francis School with a new painting for The Art House depicting her experiences here.
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