Shoe stoppers

Contest allows TMHS students a creative fix by designing kicks

Putting paint to canvas is hardly a new idea when it comes to creating art.


However, when the sturdy cloth is stretched over and around a rubber sole instead of a wooden frame, the result is a wearable piece of design work that not only protects the feet, but shoes — err, shows — off the creator’s abilities.

Four Thunder Mountain High School students recently designed as many pairs of footwear for a national art competition sponsored by the Vans shoe company.

More than 400 schools entered shoes into the contest, THMS art teacher Jan Neimeyer said. Of those schools, 50 — 10 each from one of five regions — advanced to the online voting round, which is currently ongoing. Thunder Mountain is the only Alaska school to make it to the regional finals, where it is currently competing with schools from Oregon, South Dakota, Montana, Washington and Idaho.

“I find this a really fulfilling project, because it’s a real project,” Neimeyer said. “It’s on the Internet and already people are calling, or they’re putting it on Facebook and so it’s exciting for the students to see other people appreciate the work. There’s a real audience. It’s not just the school. It goes beyond the walls of the school. It’s like we have an art gallery around the whole world now.”

Regional winners earn an all-expenses-paid trip to New York City where their designs will be judged by celebrities, and the national top set of shoes will earn $50,000 for its school’s art program, and will be made into limited edition kicks by Vans. The prize money would be especially helpful to thunder Mountain, Neimeyer said, given the cost of shipping art supplies to Juneau. She said art students at TMHS must pay fees to help defray those costs.

Neimeyer, along with fellow art teacher Megan Webb, found the contest last year while Googling student art contests.

The teachers and four students rushed together an entry last year in two days.

“We only had two days last year, so it was really hard to discuss (ideas) and stuff,” said Lynzey Culver, now a junior at TMHS. “I remember I skipped a lot of classes, because the other three kids that were on our team last year were in the same class, and I was the only one not in that class. So I’d have to leave one class and come to the (art) room an work with them.”

Despite a rushed design and divergent schedules, Thunder Mountain’s 2010 entry advanced to the regional finals.

This year, the group enjoyed more time to plan and prepare. The students received the shoes from Vans and started on the project in mid-March, well ahead of the April 15 submission deadline. The students allocated the pairs based on which type of shoe, such as a high top or below-the-ankle slip on, would best fit into one of four design types — action sports, art, music and street culture or fashion. For example, senior Peyton Webb tackled the action sports category by utilizing the height of the high-top shoe to accommodate a high-flying skateboardist, while seniors Paris Donohoe and Courtney Johnson used a lace-up pair of shoes so the shoelaces’ aglets could be replaced with miniature paintbrushes. Culver took on the challenge of street art and sophomore Lindsay Smithberg made music her challenge.

Even though each pair needed to be created around a specific theme, the shoes all needed a unifying element to join them together. Smithberg makes use of small circular designs in her artwork, so each pair picked up on that theme. The sports shoes use those circles to suggest water and hills, while Smithberg hid cassette tapes in her curlicues.

Thunder Mountain students have expressed interest in continuing the project next year, so much so that Neimeyer said she anticipates holding auditions for slots on the 2012 design team. Even students who won’t try to be on the team are starting to get involved. Culver said she’s had friends approach her and ask for her to trick out their kicks.

Aside from thoughts of a new business enterprise, Culver said the contest improved her as an artist.

“I can work on other (media), said Culver, whose preferred means of creation are charcoal and paper. “I can use different objects to draw on and create art with. I don’t just have to do it on a piece of paper or canvas. I know can draw on shoes now, and I can probably draw on blocks of wood or different-shaped objects.”

Voting on the projects continues until 8 p.m. Monday. To vote, or learn more about the project, visit

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