The phrase “life imitates art” has taken on a unique meaning for Eagle Ridge Middle School teacher Jennifer Baxter.
Each week during October, Baxter, who teaches art to the eighth grade, has combined her loves of the Halloween season and historic paintings to create detailed costumes embodying famous portraits, which she has shared over social media.
“A lot of [my students] follow my public Instagram, and it’s a talking point particularly with my eighth-grade girls, who are interested in makeup,” Baxter told the Times-Mirror. “It’s just something I try to do as just another way of engagement and connecting. You can do that kind of thing when you’re an art teacher.”
Paintings Baxter has mimicked include Andy Warhol’s diptych of Marilyn Monroe, Leonardo da Vinci’s “Mona Lisa” and one of many self portraits by Frida Kahlo. The costume that has impressed her students most, however, was a recreation of Johannes Vermeer’s most famous work.
“The one that they liked the best so far was when I did ‘Girl with a Pearl Earring,’” Baxter said. “They were like, ‘You look just like her!’”
For each entry in the monthlong project, Baxter painted her face to match the shading and coloration of the artwork she sought to imitate, dressing like each of the subjects.
She also drew detailed backgrounds for a couple of the recreations with chalk — a medium in which she works at breakneck speed, allowing her to work around her responsibilities as a mother of two.
“I’m personally super fast in chalk, so I was able to recreate the backgrounds — to some degree, to a recognizable degree — in about 20 minutes each, so that I could get those up there, get in my garb and take my photo while my kids are napping,” she said.
The project continues a tradition Baxter and her fellow art teachers would exhibit during the Halloween season, in which they would dress up as famous artists or paintings. In years past, she’s impersonated Andy Warhol and painted her face in the style of abstract expressionist Piet Mondrian.
In Baxter’s words, one of the major benefits to her hard creative work is to “reinforce learning” for her students, sowing the seeds for kids to recognize and appreciate famous artworks when they reencounter them later in life.
“It’s nice to give students a point of recognition so that, when they go to D.C., or when they find themselves in New York one day, or even if they’re watching TV and they see a reference to the painting, it’s like, ‘Oh, my art teacher dressed up like that! I know who that is!’” she said.
Though her four-week series has concluded, Baxter’s homage to inspirational artists and landmark paintings is not quite done yet.
“For my official Halloween costume with my husband, we’re going to be [Grant Wood’s] ‘American Gothic,’” she said. “I just have to get a bald cap for him.”
Photos of Baxter’s costumes are available to view on her Instagram profile, @mrs_baxters_art_class.