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Photographer William Wegman Inspires Students on Upper West Side

By Emily Frost | June 18, 2014 11:45am
 The photographer spent time with burgeoning artists Tuesday at P.S. 145 on West 105th Street. 
William Wegman Talks Dogs, Art and Creativity on UWS
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UPPER WEST SIDE — A group of fourth-graders had plenty of questions for photographer William Wegman, who is famous for his whimsical portraits of his dogs, when he visited their class at P.S. 145 Tuesday.

The students peppered Wegman, whose photographs famously feature the heads of Weimaraner dogs overlaid on human bodies, with questions including "Can they come to our class?" "How do you get them to sit still?" and "Do they chose their outfits?" 

The children, students at the West 105th Street school, gazed attentively at Wegman, shooting their hands in the air as he asked them questions about art and creativity and described his own path.

His morning visit came at the prompting of his friend Agnes Gund, founder of the 37-year-old program Studio in a School, which brings artists to teach in schools and operates out of at P.S. 145. Eighty percent of the program's costs are covered by the nonprofit, teachers said.

Before the program began at the 407-student elementary school three years ago, classroom teachers rotated the responsibility of teaching art, said Susan Escobar, a teacher at the school. Now, Chelsea Mainfold, 30, a part-time animator recruited by Studio in a School, is at the helm as the school's artist-in-residence.

In her weekly sessions with students, Manifold is able to bring in special guests who can reach students through creative explanations and activities that engage students, Escobar said. The children's interest in art has skyrocketed, she noted.

This week, the school brought in Wegman, 70, who is famous for his arresting photos of Weimaraner dogs in absurd or eye-catching positions, settings and getups. In recent years, he's branched out into writing children's books and is beginning to do classroom visits more regularly, he said.

The students used blank sheets with only a photo of the head of one of Wegman's dogs pictured to create collages of their own characters. They ranged from disco-era divas to superheroes, each with the face of the gray pooch. 

Studio in a School's president and CEO Tom Cahill said Wegman's visit "brings attention to the fact that art matters," and provides "validation for our students." 

Wegman was the perfect artist to visit a group of young students because of his out-of-the-box thinking and the fact that "[kids] have a sense of humor at this age," Cahill explained.

They also learn that "art can be a career," he added. 

Wegman echoed this sentiment, adding that "kids are impressed, for better or for worse, with credibility," which his photos and books lend. 

"I started just the way you are now," Wegman told the students, explaining that many of hours of his childhood were spent sitting and drawing. "What could be more fun than doing that?"