Artist Kevin Cole connects with students in Clinton

Lindsay Steele
Atlanta-based artist Kevin Cole, right, worked with Prince of Peace freshman Laynie Steines at the Clinton school earlier this month.

By Lindsay Steele
The Catholic Messenger

CLINTON — Atlanta-based artist Kevin Cole strolled through a classroom at Prince of Peace Catholic School, observing students as they painted bright patterns onto strips of tar paper.

Freshman Alyssa Nitschke looked quizzically at her piece as the mixed-media artist approached her desk. “I think I made it too detailed,” she confessed. “Just make sure you get all the negative space,” Cole replied encouragingly, pointing to the blank edges of the tar paper strip. “You’re fine!”

Cole, who is Black, spent three days mentoring students at Prince of Peace earlier this month as part of a Black History Month unit. He also spoke to community members at an evening presentation.


The internationally known artist has created more than 45 public artworks, including the Coca-Cola Centennial Olympic Mural for the 1996 Olympic Games. Private collectors of his work include basketball legend Michael Jordan. Cole’s work “builds on the Black history that has shaped our lives and he encourages students to express their personal truth in their own work,” said Prince of Peace art teacher Joann Winkler, a longtime friend.

In preparation for Cole’s visit, students chose a Black female artist to study and emulate. Cole believes this demographic is “very underrepresented” in art curriculum. He hoped the students would appreciate the talent and perseverance of these artists and the stories behind their art. 

“I learned how beautiful these artists were,” Nitschke said. “It’s inspiring knowing you can turn moments of history — whether good or bad — into works of art.” Freshman Laynie Steines studied the life and work of Elizabeth Catlett, a 20th-century sculptor and graphic artist. “Her prints are really impressive,” Steines said.

Cole credits his mother for encouraging his interest in art. “I had a speech impediment, and when I had a bad day she’d tell me to go make her a picture.” He got to know other Black artists while studying at the University of Arkansas-Pine Bluff. “When you see someone who looks like you selling artwork, you believe, ‘I can do that, too!’”

The artist recently completed a mixed-media installation for Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport in Atlanta, “Soul Ties that Matter.” To gain inspiration for the 20-x-55-foot piece, he interviewed people from 31 different countries to learn what they value most. He discovered many common themes — including faith, hope, peace, dreams and perseverance — and etched those words into aluminum. Presently, Cole is the only American-born artist featured in the international terminal.

Cole has also worked as an educator. He met Winkler about 25 years ago during an AP Art and Design exam grading session in New Jersey. “The art teachers often stay up late talking about the struggles they face,” Cole said. During one of these conversations, Winkler and Cole discovered they had a University of Northern Illinois-DeKalb education in common. They kept in touch over the years. “We are very close and share a strong work ethic,” Winkler said.

This is Cole’s second time mentoring Prince of Peace students. Last year, he helped high-schoolers design a mixed-media banner honoring Black American inventors. Students finished this year’s banner shortly after Cole returned home.

Winkler believes Cole is a great role model for her students. “He works with them so well. His respect for them and their respect for him is clearly evident.”

“I enjoy the students,” Cole said. “They are malleable and work hard to share something they (didn’t previously) know. They’re very eager to learn.” When asked if he would return in 2025, he replied with a playful grin, “I don’t know. I’m gonna try!”

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