By Rich Askey
The story of America’s labor movement is a powerful one, and what better way to tell it than with art?
That is what about a dozen Pennsylvania educators and students did with their award-winning artwork in this year’s Jennifer J. DuBois Fabric of Unionism Art Competition, hosted by the Pennsylvania State Education Association.
The bi-annual competition is an opportunity for students, educators, and school support professionals to showcase their artistic talents and tell the story of labor’s history, impact, and importance to our future.
The fact that we received so many powerful works of art this year from students and educators is no surprise to me. Creativity is the lifeblood of teaching, and it’s infectious. Creative teachers inspire creative students.
As president of the state’s largest educators’ union, I frequently see this creativity at work in the classrooms of our members. We have so many talented educators and students in Pennsylvania, and I’m thrilled that we are able to celebrate their great work.
That is what the Fabric of Unionism Art Competition is all about.
The artists taking part in this competition are also educating their fellow Pennsylvanians about the ideals for which the labor movement has worked over the past century — from a fair minimum wage to safer working conditions to equality for all.
This year’s grand-prize student winner is Tory Sterling, a student of art teacher Miranda Allen at Palmerton Area High School in Palmerton, Carbon County, with a wood etching titled “Freedom Soars Through Our Unions.”
The etching features two bald eagles soaring across a landscape adorned by the logos of prominent labor unions, an American flag draped on one side, and a majestic mountain scene unfolding in the background.
The grand-prize PSEA member winner is Barry Raker, an art teacher at Philipsburg-Osceola Senior High School in Philipsburg, Centre County, with a collage-style painting titled “Unionism Can Do It.” It features images of machinery, first responders, and a bald eagle, hammer in hand and muscle flexed, to symbolize the power of the American workers and union members who built this great country.
Other winning entries depict images of working people, union solidarity, and the inextricable connections between the labor movement and American history.
Students and PSEA members winning first, second, and third place receive cash prizes and public recognition for their artwork. You can view all of the winning art entries in this year’s competition here. .
The artists who took part in this competition remind us that art inspires and enlightens us. It allows us to understand our world in new and amazing ways.
That is good for students and their academics. Researchers have found that students who study art are more likely to be high academic achievers and to have good school attendance. So, by nurturing the artistic talents of both our educators and their students, PSEA is helping to foster a lifelong love for learning and knowledge.
And along the way, we are remembering and honoring the remarkable accomplishments of the brave women and men who put everything on the line to fight for workers’ rights.
Rich Askey is an elementary music teacher in the Harrisburg School District and president of the Pennsylvania State Education Association. He writes from Harrisburg.