by Carolyn Kaberline
TOPEKA — Although no one remembers how the idea originated, Mater Dei principal Andrea Hillebert does remember she “thought it would be a great outreach to our community.”
When utilizing the entire student body for the school’s annual Christmas card “received such a great response . . . we knew it would be a tradition.”
Each year now, the student body troops outside sometime in late fall for the annual photo shoot. But the work starts long before then.
The ideas for the cards usually come “sometime in the middle of the summer,” said Hillebert. “We call it the work of the Holy Spirit when the ideas hit.”
This year’s idea involved the use of a chalk drawing.
“One of our parents told our first-grade teacher Mary Louise Totten about the chalk artist, and she suggested we incorporate a chalk drawing in the picture,” explained Hillebert.
Click on the image below to view a series of the Mater Dei Christmas cards.
Although she has used this medium for six or seven years, chalk artist Beth Hall of Topeka said this is the first time she’s created a drawing to be used for Mater Dei’s annual Christmas card.
Hall said her use of chalk as an art medium began with a box of Crayola chalk six or seven years ago.
“I’d go to the back porch and create a drawing,” she said. “I got really serious with this form of art when I heard of the Chalk and Walk Festival in Kansas City.”
Hall said that people usually tell her what they would like for their drawing “and then I take it into my hands and put my own twist on it.”
On average, it takes Hall about three hours to finish a picture. Sometimes her husband Phillip, who she describes as very supportive, helps.
“He’s an artist himself, but he usually works in oil,” she said.
One thing that Hall likes about using chalk is that it is very forgiving.
“If I want something different, I just pour some water on it or color over it,” she said.
Once Hall’s drawing of Baby Jesus in a manger was complete, a chalk outline was used to show students’ positions.
“Then we start with the oldest students and work our way down to the youngest students, so [the latter] don’t stand outside waiting for so long,” said Hillebert. “The photographer climbs up to the bell tower of Mater Dei-Holy Name Church and takes pictures while we set up.
“We added a time lapse [shot] to our mix in 2014 so that we can watch the picture come together really quickly in our annual Catholic Schools Week video,” she added. “We also have a lot of teachers taking candid pictures on the ground during setup.”
Hillebert noted that after receiving a selection of the best images from the photographer, one is chosen and designed into the card with the desired caption. This year, the greeting reads: “Let Earth Receive Her King.
From the start of the photo’s setup — when the students first take their places — to the final picture takes about an hour.
Approximately 350 cards are sent to parents, benefactors and other archdiocesan Catholic schools.