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Local artist offers insight to fourth-graders




It isn't every day students get to go on a field trip with a well-known artist.

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It isn't every day students get to go on a field trip with a well-known artist.

Fourth-graders at Roosevelt Elementary School in Hays got a special treat last week while learning lessons in history and art at the same time.

Not only did they get to see firsthand the work of local sculptor Pete Felten, they heard about the origin of the statues from the artist himself.

Felten boarded a bus with approximately 60 fourth-graders and their teachers that took them on a special trip from school to Elizabeth Polly Park to Commerce Parkway to Boot Hill Cemetery and to numerous others in-between.

At each stop, Felten -- whose specialty is carving limestone -- explained the origin of the statues and the reasons they were placed in that particular location.

It's a project Roosevelt librarian Tracy Henning came up with last year for fourth-graders because it ties in to their state curriculum standards about Kansas history.

Fourth-grader Kaili Bethel summed it up as she walked off the bus with a big smile on her face at the end of the school trip.

"Amazing," she said, shaking her head.

Funny thing, that's what Felten said about some of the students' artwork inside the school, too.

Using the Lascaux Caves as a theme, art teacher Rita Legleiter used students' artwork to cover the inside walls of a cave she built in her art room.

Roosevelt students 'all in'

Legleiter came up with the idea as a project for which she could have all grade levels participate.

She came across a cave on the Internet a teacher had made by draping tents over the tops of the room down a hallway.

"I knew I couldn't do it in the hallway, so I decided to do it in my room," Legleiter said.

She used the Lascaux Caves as an example because the complex caves in southwestern France -- estimated to be more than 17,000 years old -- are famous for its Paleolithic paintings.

She built-the cave using two 10-by-10 foot tents as a base and used posters from students in kindergarten through third grade to line the cave walls -- hand prints from kindergartners and animal drawings from first- and second-graders, while third-graders told a story on their posters.

She taped all the posters together and laid them atop fishing string, which couldn't be seen in the dark, giving the effect of wall drawings.

All along a wall of the art room are weapons used during prehistoric times, with explanations of their uses, and fifth-graders, using nails as their tools, carved out images on limestone rock pieces Legleiter brought in from her family farm.

Upon completion of the cave, every single student got the chance to check out the inside with a flashlight and look for their artwork.

"It's so nice for them to see their own little piece and how it is so important to the big picture," Legleiter said. "I think we were able to find every single one except about three that probably are under one of the supports."

Felten impressed

Before giving the fourth-graders their educational tour around town, Felten visited the cave and obviously was impressed as he shined his flashlight on the cave drawings.

Carved pieces of limestone drew Felten to stoop even further to get a closer look.

"This is very ambitious," he said. "The drawings on these rocks are really neat. They really picked some good rocks."

Felten chuckled when his light ran across one particular rock in a corner. It was one of his own originals -- of a buffalo.

"It was in the library, so we decided to put it in here with the rest of them," Legleiter said.

The cave project, and the Felten tour as well, are activities Legleiter and other teachers think the students will remember for a long time.

Patti Park, one of the fourth-grade teachers, said she anxiously was anticipating the tour.

"This really fits in with our Social Studies curriculum," Park said. "I'm not from around here, so I learned a lot, too, and our kids sure were looking forward to it."

* * *

Individual stops on a tour for Roosevelt Elementary School fourth-graders, guided by local sculptor Pete Felten, last week are listed below. They were a sampling of Felten's work in town, where he has more than two dozen sculptures in public areas, as well as several others at private residences.

Felten, whose studio "The Stone Gallery" is at 107 W. Sixth in Hays, also has commissioned numerous sculptures throughout western Kansas, including the "Four Famous Kansans" in the rotunda of the State Capitol in Topeka -- Arthur Cappers, Amelia Earhart, Dwight Eisenhower and William Allen White.

* Elizabeth Polly at Elizabeth Polly Park at 26th and Indian Trail. Polly was a nurse during the days of Fort Hays.

* A pteranodon, a flying animal without teeth with a 27-foot wing span, off Interstate 70 near the Commerce Parkway eastbound exchange.

* A train with an engine, a freight car, two passenger cars and a caboose, at the corner of Commerce Parkway and Old Highway 40.

* Hereford at the Kansas State University Agricultural Research Center. Felten told students he carved the bull from a rock that weighed 22 tons and measured 8 feet long, 6 feet high and 4 feet thick. "Let me tell you, that's a big rock," he said.

* Monarch of the Plains at Historic Fort Hays. The buffalo -- which Felten carved for Hays' centennial in 1967 -- was sculpted from an even larger rock than the Hereford. The 24-ton gray limestone is from Indiana.

* The trip down Main Street showed the students a boy and girl by Washington Elementary School, a guitar player street singer and his dog at Seventh and Main, Wild Bill Hickock in Union Pacific Park, Buffalo Bill Cody by Hays Public Library at 1205 Main, a small buffalo at 14th and Main, a lawman at City Hall at 1507 Main and a visitor looking for a gravesite at Boot Hill at 18th and Fort.