Kewanee Art Students Create Moving Stop Motion Tribute to Tuskegee Airman Harold Brown

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Students in Mr. Nelson’s 7th and 8th Grade Art Class at Central School have created a remarkable tribute to an American hero. Harold Brown was one of the famed Tuskegee Airman, a group of Black American Pilots who became heroes in World War 2. Brown, who grew up in Minnesota, went to Tuskegee, Alabama to learn to fly and endured racial discrimination in ways he’d not experienced in the north. Nevertheless, he endured rigorous training and immense danger to emerge from War World 2 as a decorated pilot and survived being shot down and placed in a prisoner of war camp in Germany in 1944 at just the age of 19. He went on to fly for his country again in the Koream War before retiring from the Air Force in 1965 after 21 years of service.

Brown has since earned a Congressional Gold Medal and has written a bestselling book about his life called “Keep Your Airspeed Up: The Story of a Tuskegee Airman. After his retirement from the Air Force, Brown moved into academia where he became a respected Vice President of Academic Affairs at Columbus State Community College, a position he held for nearly 30 years. He’s still alive today at 98 years old. We asked Marc Nelson about the tribute to Harold Brown created by his students and called Harold Brown, American Hero. Watch it below

WKEI spoke with Teacher Marc Nelson who talked with the students involved and gave us a glimpse inside the creative process of Harold Brown American Hero

“My 7th and 8th grade artists have been creating stop-motion “claymation” films since I started teaching at Central in 2008. I have always felt that filmmaking is such an immersive marriage of visual art, storytelling, and technology, especially when students are making characters, props, and scenery by hand. For many years the students made their own short films in small groups, and then edited their footage the following semester in their computer class. As we learned more and more about filmmaking however, the file sizes of the films began overwhelming the school’s server! A change had to be made. In 2017 we decided that instead of making 40-50 , 1-2 minute claymations, we would consolidate our talents and efforts to make one larger, collaborative film. Since the foundation of my Jr. High art pedagogy is the use of visual art as an interdisciplinary tool to explore other core subjects (i.e. literature, history, science, math), I wanted my young artists to learn how to adapt real-world, non-fiction stories/events into stop-motion films. So far we have made two collaborative films, one, “Noor and Alaa” about two sisters surviving a brutal siege in Syria, and the other, “Estrella”, about a young El Salvadoran girl and her perilous journey to seek asylum in the United States. This will be our third film.”

“At the beginning of every class, my 7-8th grade students read a few pages of the powerful graphic novel Maus by Art Speigelman. Maus relates the true story of the author’s parents and their experience before, during and after the Holocaust. The book has really sparked my young artists’ interest in the climactic events of WW2, so when it came time to look for a subject for our film, the students excitedly suggested the Second World War. While looking for inspiring stories from WW2, I came across the book “Keep Your Airspeed Up” by Harold Brown and his wife Marsha S. Bordner. Harold was a member of the famed Tuskegee Airmen, the first African-American fighter pilots in U.S. military history. Harold and his fellow aviators had to battle the twin enemies of facism and racism before and after the war. Not only was Harold’s story moving and riveting, Harold was still alive and well in Ohio at the age of 97! I quickly contacted Harold and Marsha and asked if my students would be allowed to adapt Mr. Brown’s amazing story into a film—they enthusiastically agreed!”

“The 8th graders eagerly began production on the film in the fall of 2021, and the 7th graders resumed working on the film in 2022. Each student researched, designed, and sculpted a character for the film based on historical documents and reference photos. Then, in small groups, the artists worked together to construct the props and set pieces for each scene. They made houses, buildings, barracks, churches, prison camps, taverns, rocky mountain slopes, guard towers, and WW2 airplanes in different scales. Their dedication and talent brought every nuance of the film to life. The students then filmed the movie, frame by frame, in small, rotating, groups. They took turns operating the camera and animating the clay figures. We are planning on releasing the film on YouTube in the fall of 2022.”

Student quotes:

“Before making this film I was never taught that there was an African American pilot group during World War 2. It made me want to work harder for them on the film so they know that their struggles were worth it.”
-Natalia Bond Moran (7th grade)

“My favorite part of working on the film was working with clay, not just because I got to make my own creations, but also because I got to take in all of my classmates’ creativity and see their personalities shine.”
-Isabella Guzman (7th grade)

“My favorite part of making this film was helping tell the story of these great and brave men who stood up against racism and showed the world what they could do.”
-Dalton Swearingen (7th grade)

“I learned to love every aspect of the story and the creation of the film itself.”
-Nolie Charlet (7th grade)

“My favorite part of the film was seeing everyone work as a team.”
-Cosette Komnick (7th grade)

“I learned that for many years even after slavery, we still didn’t treat all people as people.”
-Isaiah Ince

“I learned teamwork and building skills to help make this wonderful movie.”
-Marcos Torres (7th grade)

“Modeling the characters for the film was fun because we got to use the experience to “meet” each individual character and learn about their backstory.”
-Jendayia Crowe (7th grade)

“My favorite part was all the time and dedication that went into this film.”
-Alyssa Mannella

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