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Art and Identity: An Exploration of Student Artwork

Eighth and ninth grade students of Beatrice Ruggeri have created 3-dimensional artworks that are meaningful to them and express characteristics of both art and identity. Beatrice is the art teacher at North Star Academy in Bluffdale and is part of the Beverley Taylor Sorenson Arts Learning Program.

“Each project corresponds to a unit. All the units refer to the concept of 'Art and Identity.' We discussed together how art connects with our identity as individuals and as part of a community, how art can represent the cultural identity of individuals and societies, how we can express ourselves as individuals and as a collectivity through art,” Beatrice said.

“The hot air balloons were built with the intention of letting things go. That was our first project and I needed to connect with the students and get to know them. Therefore, I used an individual project based on visual arts standards of creating, connecting, presenting and that was focused on elements of composition such as sizes, shapes, forms, texture and principles such as balance, and harmony, that would give me information about the students,” Beatrice said. “Students decided to use the shape of a hot air balloon to symbolize their needs of letting things go. After a very stressful year and a half, they wanted to liberate themselves of heavy feelings, bad memories, stress and anxiety, so they included all of those into tiny pieces of paper included in the baskets of the balloons.”

Each piece was meaningful to its creator. The students were encouraged to explore within the content of each unit being taught and decide as a group what to work on. They were only confined by the technique that they were using, such as plaster, papier-mâché, cardboard, and air-dry clay.

“A different plan was done for the totem pole, where we learned together about the spiritual and religious meaning that totem poles have for Native culture and we reflected about the different approach of the western culture for what concerns nature and animals,” Beatrice said. “Students had to think about their own relationship with animals based on their own cultural background and use the challenge of the totem to build something with 3D details that was able to stand in balance.”

Beatrice wanted students to experiment with as many techniques as they could. They used paper-mâché for the balloons, plaster for the food, cardboard and air-dry clay for the totem poles and cardboard, fabric, metal, air-dry clay and other scraps for the suitcases. “We used everything that was available to us in school and everything we could recycle,” she said.

Beatrice and her student discussed what characteristics can define a society - the fashion, the way people dress, the architecture of houses and configuration of cities and towns, the music people listen to, the language they speak, and the food they eat.

“I am Italian and for us, food is our essence. I always like to joke with my students and say that food is like a religion for us. We started to consider what food represents and each student was able to create one or more pieces inspired by this discussion,” Beatrice said. “They could make food that represented a comfort food, a social food, a family food associated with celebrations and memories, an exotic food they are exploring and learning. We used the technique of plaster and painted the pieces with acrylics and acrylic markers.”

When Beatrice lived in Italy, she wanted to go to the Art High School, but her father didn't agree, so she attended a Classic High School (Greek, Latin, philosophy, literature, art history, etc.) “I always drew and painted on my own. I graduated in humanities and got a Master in Science of Sociology, and I started to work as a preschool and then kindergarten teacher,” she said. “When we moved to the U.S. nine years ago, I wanted my chance at art, so I started to attend classes, workshops, courses, and practiced a lot.”

Then, while she was living in North Carolina, she found a job as an elementary art teacher in a private school and she officially began her art teaching career. “I was also painting and participating in solo and collective local exhibitions. I won two artistic residencies, one in Greensboro and one in Raleigh and I taught many classes after school in a fine art studio,” she said.

Later, in New York City, Beatrice taught art in an elementary school and, because of the pandemic, it was very hard to find places to exhibit her art. “So, I did it online through my Instagram page and I opened a small Etsy shop to sell what I usually sold in person to my amazing followers and supporters,” she said.

Finally, Beatrice and her family moved to Utah last summer and she is now enrolled in the APPEL program to get her Utah license. “My dream is to get a Master of Fine Arts. I just need to finish the APPEL first, because it is a lot of work to do while teaching full time like I do. I am also looking for some opportunities as a visual artist, galleries, places where I can display my art or participate in residencies. Little by little I'll get there,” she said.

Beatrice has always wanted to be a teacher and is very passionate about art education in schools. “Studying the arts will support positive learning experiences of all the students, will help to raise well-rounded individuals that are compassionate, tolerant, open-minded, hardworking and creative,” she said. “The world needs the arts, individuals need the arts, societies need the arts!”

Beatrice’s students’ artworks will be on display at the Bluffdale City Hall until March 4 at 1 p.m. To see some of her work, check out @beatriceruggeri_art on Instagram.

Laura Giles is a lover of all things art, a first-grade teacher in Alpine School District, a writer for the Daily Herald newspaper, an Arts Leadership Academy graduate and has earned the Arts Integration Endorsement from Brigham Young University. She can be reached at

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