Montecito Union School Students’ Art Project with Rod Lathim

By Joanne A Calitri   |   April 30, 2024
Artist Rod Lathim lectures on neon use in art at Montecito Union School (photo by Alyssa Gonzalez)

Students in Montecito Union School’s second-grade art class were recently taught about using neon in sculpture by local neon multimedia artist and theater mainstay Rod Lathim

MUS K-6 Art Specialist Alyssa Gonzalez requested that the Montecito Journal report on the project. For the annual art project, the students create an art collage using their music studies with music teacher Ron Zecher. The students are performing a work from the Star Wars film on violin and cello at the Spring Sing using neon tape on the violin and cello bows to emulate light sabers. 

Due to the use of neon tape on the instrument bows, Zecher and Gonzalez, who know Lathim, asked him to give a talk to the students on working with neon in his art. Lathim decided to also create a work of art with the students for the school. “This collaboration has been a refreshing reminder of the talent and willingness of our community to inspire local students. Rod has been so gracious; students can’t wait to see the showcase of the finished collaborative collage piece hanging in the foyer with their art alongside it,” says Gonzalez.

I reached out to Gonzalez, Zecher, and Lathim for the details. Zecher had been doing an inventory of irreparable violins and cellos at the school that would be good candidates for use by the art department for projects. He explained, “This art collaboration began with a cello and two violins that were beyond repair. Starting with our art teacher Alyssa Gonzalez, each step along the way everyone involved responded with a definite ‘yes!’ when asked if they wanted to participate in creating this piece. I love that it represents so much of what we value here at Montecito Union School, including making a meaningful connection for our students in their music and visual arts education, engaging with the greater Santa Barbara community through a partnership in working with local artist Rod Lathim, and repurposing rather than throwing things in the trash. The result is a joyful and whimsical art creation that will delight many for years to come.”

Working together, Gonzalez, Zecher and Lathim – recruiting Gonzalez’s father, who built the base for the neon artwork – designed and built the “core” of the art. The students filled in, adding collage work to the cello and two violins for the piece, and paint colors similar to Lathim’s art. It is on display at MUS from now through June.

During the project, Lathim lectured on using neon light in art, how it works, his path to art and his passion for theatre and visual arts. I reached out to Lathim for his thoughts. He shared, “I was very pleased to be asked to speak to two second grade classes at MUS about my neon sculpture work. I was very impressed with the keen focus, attention, and enthusiasm from the students who asked very intelligent and insightful questions. When asked by the art teacher Alyssa Gonzalez and music teacher Ron Zecher if I would be interested in creating a collaborative three-dimensional work with musical instruments and neon, I agreed with equal enthusiasm. The whole process was magical, and the work we all created exceeded my expectations. I am so proud that it will hang in a place of honor in the school. I love sharing my work and process with students and this experience will inspire me to do more of this type of collaborative work. The arts are a critically important part of education, and I am so grateful for this opportunity.”



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