Wheat Ridge High School art students have been painting on a canvas smaller — and more shapely — than artists traditionally use.
For six years now students of Wheat Ridge art teacher Franky Scaglione have been painting on Vans shoes.
“My best friend Shawn Gruenhagen, a Vans regional sales representative, said, 'I have all of these plain white shoes and you're an art teacher, why don't we make it a project?,'” Scaglione said.
Out of that art project at Wheat Ridge High, an official Vans contest was born four years ago — the Vans Custom Culture competition.
In the competition, students from across the nation paint and design shoes in four categories — art, actions sports, music and local flavor.
This year, 1,500 schools participated and Wheat Ridge was chosen, for the fourth consecutive year, as one of the Top 50.
Voting is currently under way to dwindle down the Top 50 to the Top Five, one from each region, who will then all go to New York City for art tours and to have their shoes on display at the Whitney Museum of American Art.
Celebrity judges will then select a winner from the top five, who will receive $50,000 for their school's art program.
“To get to New York City is our goal,” Scaglione said. “Winning $50,000 would just be a bonus. We want to show the whole country we're the best in our region and have the students work displayed.”
A total of 23 of Scaglione's students designed shoes and they then voted for the best of each category.
Wheat Ridge High students decided to keep all shoes within the theme of 1966, the year Vans was created.
For the art category, senior McKenna Lenhart and sophomore Perri Drewno created “Pow Splat,” which features pop-art looking designs of a gun shooting sprinkles onto a 3D ice cream cone.
“Our theme was the 1960s, so we looked at how pop art was prevalent and tried to design them based off different artists,” Lenhart said. “Being in the Top 50 is a really cool experience. It shows all of our hard work paid off.”
Lenhart and Drewno originally had to separate designs; when the students voted, they tied for the favorites and they worked together to create one cohesive design.
Juniors Gianna Ossello and Tarryn Wilson entered “The Mountain Thrasher” in the action sports category.
The shoes feature images of mountain bikers, a sport that was gaining popularity in the 1960s, mountains and topographic maps.
In the music category, sophomore Cecily Hill created “Revolver,” an artistic representation of the Beatles' classic album.
“For me, the Beatles are one of the most iconic bands of the 1960s, so we couldn't do music without them,” Hill said. “It's exciting just to be recognized.”
The design features a revolver on the back of one shoe shooting out beetles. On the back of the other shoe are four beetles playing instruments.
The final entry for local flavor was “Rocky Mountain Showdown” created by junior Sean Gaouette.
Gaouette carved the bottoms of the shoes to look like cowboy boots and added spurs to portray his old West theme. Each shoe also features a cowboy ready to draw in a showdown.
“It's an incredible honor to be in the Top 50,” Scaglione said. “As the numbers increase year after year, it's a greater challenge and honor to be in the Top 50. We've never won the competition, though, so that's our goal. We won't give up until we do.”
Voting for the finalists ends May 13.
To vote for Wheat Ridge High School, visit www.vans.com/customculture/vote and click on the southwest region, then select Wheat Ridge High School and click “Submit vote.”
Only one vote is allowed per IP address per region.