Art gets an A+ at Central Elementary

The fourth- and fifth-grade students at Central Elementary School in Waynesville were recently treated to some time-travel art thanks to Professor Mark A. Menendez (a.k.a. artist/instructor Mark Menendez), who traveled back in time to visit Leonardo da Vinci and bring back the secrets of the master’s Mona Lisa to share with the students.

Menendez skillfully weaves a little entertainment, hands-on, story telling and professional art instruction to give the students a taste of art and art history by employing and demonstrating the same techniques and processes da Vinci used to create his masterpieces.

Menendez grabs the attention of his 21st Century students by starting the program with a video showing him launching his Time Carriage and charging through a time portal to meet personally with the fabled da Vinci. Then he begins explaining the secrets he brought back with him.

In da Vinci’s day, artists didn’t have canvases to paint on. They painted on wood. But they couldn’t paint directly on the wood, because it would absorb the paint. The wood had to be covered with “gesso” a chalky white pigment that was mixed with glue, similar to plaster. But then one couldn’t draw on the gesso — so what next.

Menendez explained that da Vinci did a charcoal drawing of Mona Lisa, then in an interactive demonstration with one of the students showed how the drawing was transferred to the wooden “canvas.” The main lines of the drawing were pierced with small holes and the drawing was affixed to the gesso. Next the artist, or in this case a Central Elementary student, would take a cloth dusted with charcoal and “pounce” it (slap or bounce) over the drawing. Then Menendez would remove the drawing and there to the gasp and wonderment of students and some adults would be a beautiful outline of Mona Lisa. This entertaining and enlightening program lasts 45 minutes and goes into great detail about the techniques and tools of the period and about Mona Lisa – the painting and the person.

Menendez’s “Time for Art” program was coordinated through a matching grant between the Haywood County Arts Council and Central Elementary PTO.

“The Arts Council has a definite role to play in bringing art to our local schools,” said Kay Miller, executive director at Haywood County Arts Council. Miller said the Arts Council was helping bring about a dozen programs to students of all ages across the County, this year. She said the Council works with several long running programs like Voices in the Laurel, the Community Chorus and the Community Band and is always looking for other ways to partner with other schools and/or PTOs. Central PTO and the Arts Council partnered for two well received programs last year and have one more (a poetry residency featuring local poet Michael Beadle) scheduled for this March.

Mrs. Pitts’ fifth grade participated in the “Time for Art” program.  She said it was a real treat for students to get to hear from experts in other fields.

“It’s great for them to be exposed to new ideas about the possibilities that are out there for them,” Pitts said.

Central Elementary Principal Anne Rogers called the program “awesome.”

“We love it anytime we can tap into outside resources that have educational value to share with our kids,” she said.

While Central is officially an A+ school — one that uses arts-integrated instruction including visual arts, music, drama, creative-writing etc. to enhance learning opportunities — Rogers notes that funding cuts make it hard to truly accomplish these goals.

“We are A+ in nature,” she said “and the teachers work to bring art into the class, creating lesson plans that incorporate art, science and music rather than simply talking about them.”

Menendez, a formally trained artist who lives in Andrews, teaches at several locations across the region including Mountain Home Collection in Waynesville. Menendez said that he learned at an early age, while taking art lessons, that he also had a passion for teaching art. Menendez has paintings in the Mission Nobre de Dios Museum in St. Augustine, Fla. plus many other private and corporate collections. He is also an accomplished book illustrator but he believes “Art should be accessible to everyone and needs to be encouraged in our school and in all walks of life.”

He has taught his “Time for Art Program” for students of all ages at venues like Cullowhee Valley Elementary, Andrews High School, Pisgah High School, John C. Campbell Folk School and many more. To learn more about Menendez and his programs visit

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