Students’ body biographies give an inside look at SIMS art show

August 31, 2014

For decades, I have been interested in peoples’ life stories and doing whatever I can to get them out there so other people can enjoy them, learn from them, grow from them and get ideas of things they can integrate into their own lives. Sharing being human is spiritual, communal thing.

For ten years, I worked with Winnipeg seniors who were writing their life stories. I also did many historical (or herstorical) profiles of women and men in history who made exciting contributions to being human. You can read some of these in previous posts of mine. Some are yet to be featured in future posts.

Here is an article I wrote about a unique biographies project at the Salt Spring Island Middle School (SIMS) during the time my son Luke attended there while I was on staff at the Gulf Islands Driftwood:

Gulf Islands Driftwood
February 9, 2000
Students’ body biographies give an inside look at SIMS art show
by Tanya Lester

It was a body of work as unique as the 50 Salt Spring Island Middle School students who created the pieces for the art show and guided adults through it in the student centre Friday.

The only things more polished than the glossy magazine clippings in the art collages were the students’ public relations skills and the trays of tasty treats.

Called “body biographies”, Grade 8 students in Deb Miller’s and Bruce Creswick’s classes used traced images of their bodies glued on cardboard as a backdrop to highlight who they are.

Pictures ripped out of magazines were pasted inside or around the student body images to let fellow students, teachers and parents know a little bit more about each one of them. Stories typed up or written on white paper and distributed around the traced body images completed each installation.

“In Grade 8 they’re really involved with who they are as a person and maybe its helps (to explore it in this way),” said Miller. “And it helps children work and learn about writing as they develop their writing voice.”

The art show is a reminder of how each human is an individual but, at the same time, how kids will be kids no matter what.

Student Boyd Sloan, for example, used a picture of soap to represent his enjoyment of being clean. Candy bars and ketchup served as glossy images illustrating his food preferences.

One of his stories told of the scary incident in which he and a friend found a red gas container. To see if there was anything in it, Sloan threw in a lit match. Fire blazed and his friend lost his eyelashes while both were lucky to get away with nothing more than a valuable lesson learned.

Sloan’s “I am” fantasy poem was more ‘cool’ (pun intended). It began with: “I am Brad Pitt walking down the street, signing autographs to all my fans…”

Fellow student Kyler Bantel had an interesting story to relate on paper about what his name might have been. “My name was going to be Elvis because my dad loves Elvis Presley but my mom wouldn’t let him name me that…I am very happy with my name,” he wrote.

Bantel also wanted to set the record straight on the Bacardi rum magazine clipping in his body collage. He does not drink alcohol but he was running out pictures to complete the artwork, he said.

Katrina Ball’s piece included an interview with someone in her class who she had previously not known well. She discovered that George Soloff had lived in Hawaii and other tropical locales.

The fall fair ribbon adorning Ball’s body biography was given to her hedgehog for the “most unusual pet” category in 1998. The hedgehog, no doubt, is cute but so are Ball’s baby shoes which also decorated the piece.

David Bartle explained the image of his body that he was inspired to create was modelled after the chalk tracings of murdered bodies often seen on the pavement in cop television shows.

Bartle wrote about his family’s tradition of going to Hornby Island each summer. “The beach is awesome,” he said. “It’s the good kind of sand, the nice stuff. It’s really long beach and the water’s really cool.”

His early memories were “mostly about me and my friends doing stupid stuff” like “mooning” a classroom of students when he was four years old.

Computer games were also featured in his collage.

More than one parent who attended the lunch hour show mentioned how interesting it was to read the biographies and find out how the young people had changed from the way they were in elementary school.

Elaine Huser’s smile reflected her enjoyment of examining both her niece’s and her daughter’s contributions. She liked reading her niece Anglea Huser’s piece on the family tradion of getting together with the extended family (including Elain) in a cabin during the summer.

“I hope we carry on this tradition when I’m older,” Angela wrote.

“I’m very proud of my daughter,” Elaine continued. “She spent a lot of time (three long nights) on here.”

Kara Huser’s contribution included a tropical umbrella to indicate her love of warm weather and many clippings from at least seven magazines. There were lots of stories, too.

Both mother and daughter agreed whit what was top of the list of what she thinks she is like. “I’m a very smiley girl,” it read.

Miller said the body biographies concept was the brainchild of Gulf Islands Secondary School teacher Bill Underwood, who initiated the project with one of his classes and then wrote about it in the English teachers’ journal.

Here own son, Miller said, kept his body biography on his bedroom wall for a long time and she still has it in her possession.

To read the first posts in this blog, please go to
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Confessions of a Tea Leaf Readerby Tanya Lester can be purchased from the author or by going to the title and author name to read the first few pages or buy from


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