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updated: 3/2/2012 10:46 AM

Elgin school lunch lady hopes to inspire with artwork

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  • Steurer adds some depth detail to stones on the cafeteria wall, helping to create the feeling of a mountain lodge for students at Ellis Middle School.

      Steurer adds some depth detail to stones on the cafeteria wall, helping to create the feeling of a mountain lodge for students at Ellis Middle School.
    Christopher Hankins/chankins@dailyherald

  • Steurer works the snack window in the school cafeteria where she rotates daily through different duties along with other food service workers.

      Steurer works the snack window in the school cafeteria where she rotates daily through different duties along with other food service workers.
    Christopher Hankins/chankins@dailyherald

  • Steurer works with Ellis Middle School eighth-graders Guadalupe Hernandez, front, and Julissa Renteria as they prepare to paint a portion of the cafeteria wall.

      Steurer works with Ellis Middle School eighth-graders Guadalupe Hernandez, front, and Julissa Renteria as they prepare to paint a portion of the cafeteria wall.
    Christopher Hankins/chankins@dailyherald

  • Steurer spends nearly every weekday morning painting before teachers and students even arrive at the building. She enjoys the peace and quiet, and sometimes a little music, to help inspire her artwork.

      Steurer spends nearly every weekday morning painting before teachers and students even arrive at the building. She enjoys the peace and quiet, and sometimes a little music, to help inspire her artwork.
    Christopher Hankins/chankins@dailyherald

  • As students file out of the cafeteria between lunch periods, Steurer gets out of the way before going back to work. Just as with her cafeteria duties, she has a smile for each kid.

      As students file out of the cafeteria between lunch periods, Steurer gets out of the way before going back to work. Just as with her cafeteria duties, she has a smile for each kid.
    Christopher Hankins/chankins@dailyherald

  • Video: Moving Picture: The Lunch Lady

 
By Christopher Hankins
chankins@dailyherald.com

Hair nets and an abrasive personality might have been the image of the lunch lady when you were growing up, but kids at Ellis Middle School in Elgin are having quite a different experience.

Food service employee Kathy Steurer enjoys her interaction with the students and wants them to have a pleasant lunch experience every day, but not just from the chicken nuggets and milk she serves them at lunch hour.

She wants to transport them to a different place through the artwork that now graces the walls of their school cafeteria.

A mostly self-taught painter, Steurer has transformed the cafeteria at Ellis into a mountain lodge and the lunchroom at Elgin High School into a french market.

Her work began as a gift to her boss at the district, and soon she was asked to help spruce up the walls of the school cafeterias. She completed the Elgin High mural last summer and is working to finish the project at her own cafeteria at Ellis.

"I do feel more like an illusionist rather than an artist," Steurer said. "I like to create a different ambience in rooms."

In keeping with her love for the students, she has recruited some of them to spend part of their lunch hour to help her paint, a skill she enjoys sharing with the kids she also feeds.

She used to keep her artwork to herself but enjoys the freedom that comes with painting in such public places. She hopes that the students who are exposed to her artwork will be inspired to come out of their shells and explore their own talents.

"My heart is that I draw that out of them and that they really can feel safe with who they are when they come to school," she said. "Even if it's only three seconds when I look at them in the eye when I'm working on the register. That's really important to me, and hopefully them."

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