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Students compose a tribute to a man of music

Haugen and her students employed Close’s grid technique to make a one-of-a-kind, larger than life, portrait of Mr. Saliny. Tom Lindfors / RiverTown Multimedia

After more than 30 years of teaching music at the New Richmond middle and high schools, orchestra instructor Jim Saliny will be retiring at the end of this school year.

"When you are the only orchestra teacher, you start working with students starting in fifth grade. If they stay in the program, I get to watch them grow up. I get to know their families well. I've got kid's kids. I play at their weddings. It's really more like family," said Saliny.

Long-time friend and art instructor, Bridget Haugen, collaborated with some of her students to create a memorable "last note" on which to send Saliny out.

Haugen's class had been studying the art of American painter and photographer Chuck Close. Close, who suffers from dyslexia and partial paralysis, is recognized for employing a grid to pixelate portraits to make the point that "whole" is rarely more or less than the sum of its parts. Close's large-scale portraits are made up of many small images, which may be interesting in and of themselves, but are only a piece of the larger puzzle. When combined, all the pieces together create an idea, a personality larger than themselves.

Haugen and her students employed Close's grid technique to make a one-of-a-kind, larger than life, portrait of Saliny, which they managed to keep secret and hidden from him a number of weeks while they worked on the puzzle-like painting.

"We took a photo of Mr. Saliny and then we had to grid it. One of my students did the math and blocked the whole thing out on the computer. Then the students had to interpret all those squares. They painted with acrylic so in case they made a mistake, they could paint right over the top of it," Haugen said.

Upon completing the painting, the students installed it on one of the hallway walls Saliny travels on during his way to class.

Impossible to miss, Saliny was, to say the least, surprised and undoubtedly honored by the unique tribute.

"It was amazing. I didn't know how they did it, so the next day I went into their class and they explained, showed me the artist they were studying and told me his story," Saliny said.

In the end, all of the pieces, both physical and metaphorical, students, teacher, concept, and painting came together to create an unforgettable tribute to a man of music.