NORMAL — Beth Smith knows how hard it is for elementary, middle and high school classes to go to a museum, so she's bringing the museum to them.

Smith, an art teacher at Normal Community West High School, is the mind behind the "Museum Project," an effort to give McLean County Unit 5 teachers access to portable masterpieces reproduced in large-scale by NCWHS students.

"It will be a collection almost like a library," she said. "Teachers can check out paintings to use for lessons."

Smith and about 45 students are working together to re-create about a dozen paintings and produce educational content about them. She hopes to post videos and other materials online that will be accessible by QR codes accompanying the paintings when they're checked out through the mail.

The project will generate a lasting resource for Unit 5 while serving as a valuable educational experience for Smith's students, she said.

With a $1,200 grant from Beyond the Books Educational Foundation, Smith has provided her students with broad canvasses — most are 4 by 6 feet — and additional paint, brushes and painting tape to re-create works close to scale.

"They're learning new techniques for painting something this size," she said. "It's a completely different experience than an 8½-by-11 drawing."

Smith piloted the program with the NCWHS Art Club — their two pieces, a Picasso portrait and a René Magritte painting of a man in a bowler hat facing away and standing next to his silhouette, hang in the school library — before starting it on a broad scale with her Drawing and Painting I and II students last week.

On Thursday, groups worked to complete the ballerinas of Edgar Degas' "Two Dancers on the Stage," outstretched hands of Michelangelo's "Creation of Adam" and feminine face of Johannes Vermeer's "Girl With a Pearl Earring," among other pieces. Students have completed a half-dozen pieces.

Smith hopes to complete the painting portion of the project in the next few weeks before delving into the history of the pieces. She plans an unveiling of the finished products at the school's year-end art show May 13.

Junior Jack Stearns of Normal, who spent Thursday on the French sky of Vincent van Gogh's "Starry Night," said he "was a little bit terrified" to try to replicate some of mankind's greatest art but found it a fun challenge in practice.

"You've got to use a lot larger brushstrokes, and teamwork is a really big thing," he said.

Stearns looks forward to learning more about contemporary American artist Georgia O'Keeffe, whose piece, "Purple Morning Glories," is up soon for reproduction by Smith's students.

Junior Brock Hirn, also of Normal, said he was "skeptical" at first about whether the original artists of the pieces in the "Museum Project" would approve, but he's become more comfortable with the concept.

"Some of these pieces have really big histories, but without this (project) we wouldn't know about them," he said. "It's a lot more rewarding than doing a small (still-life) drawing."

Follow Derek Beigh on Twitter: @pg_beigh

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Reporter for The Pantagraph.

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