It was an unusual sight near the tennis courts at Wauwatosa West High School — a steamroller traveling back and forth underneath an overhang, with a throng of students looking on.

'I've never ran over art on purpose,' said Carlos Pinto, an employee with Wauwatosa's Department of Public Works. Pinto, alongside his co-worker, Mike Kochanski, were relieved of their normal streetscaping duties to help with the latest project: to roll through the school's art department.

For the last several weeks, students in advanced placement studio art and photography classes have worked together to create two large screen prints carved from wood. The final products — which will hang on the school's walls — could only be made possible using a great deal of force.

And that's where the steamroller came in.

The art department reached out to the city, wondering if it would be possible to borrow a heavy construction machine typically used to level surfaces like asphalt, said instructors Selena Marris and Jessica Belich.

The process of using a steamroller to print an image has been done before, said Marris, mostly at the collegiate level, including at the University of Wisconsin-Stout. College recruiters often look at students at the high school's art department, so this project was a unique way to catch their attention, Marris said.

The project is just one example of city-school partnerships, said Mayor Kathy Ehley, who stopped by the site May 26. Ehley has previously served as president for the Education Foundation of Wauwatosa.

'This is fantastic,' she said, before venturing over to the nearby fence, where a series of prints hung to dry. With each subsequent attempt, each print reflected a deeper shade of ink and a more vivid print.

The event, dubbed the 'Tosa West Steamroller Printing Festival,' also drew Alderwoman Allison Byrne, who said the project demonstrates the vast opportunities available to students in Wauwatosa's public schools and the importance of fine arts programs.

How it works

To make the print, the students rolled ink onto large, sheets of wood, which were then placed on the ground. A clean, white canvas was placed on top of the print and then another wooden board topped off the layers.

Once a public works employee was given the OK, he revved up the steamroller and slowly eased over the pile, pressing the inked board onto the canvas like a stamp.

When finished, four students each held a corner of the canvas and gently separated it from the board. The print on the canvas was the finished product.

About the prints

The beginning of the project dates back weeks when each student was required to make their own carving on sheet of wood around a favorite memory of their time at Wauwatosa West High School. Two carvings were selected from the pool to be carved at a larger scale.

Senior Katie Dickey, 18, created one of the selected pieces. Her artwork shows a huddle of students surrounding a ping-pong table — inspired by one day during study hall hour when a group of students set aside their books and held a table tennis tournament instead. The original piece was about 1/12 the size of the final print, she said. Students from both the photography and studio art class helped carve out the final products, which took about three weeks to complete.

When asked how she felt about her artwork hanging in the halls of her school for years to come, Dickey said she's 'always wanted to be remembered,' and this is the perfect opportunity. She plans to study art in the fall at Mount Mary University in Wauwatosa.

The print of junior Isabella Knutsen, 17, also was chosen. Knutsen's design shows two students gazing up at a constellation of stars — a piece that reflects her fondness for friendship and the school's Gary E. Sampson Planetarium, she said.

The steamrolling eveent is one the art teachers hope to continue every year, so that the hallways are filled with memories of Wauwatosa West High School.

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