When Central High School art teacher Cheryl Burchett told her students they could enter the Vans Custom Culture shoe design contest, she got instant approval.
“We were selected and we’re one of only 250 schools across the country,” Burchett said.
“They immediately said that was great and started drawing their ideas.”
The contest gives students empty Vans shoes to use as a canvas. One couple must represent Hometown Pride. The second shows the legacy of the founder of the Van’s Shoe Company, who died that year.
The students worked during lunch and after school. “Even those who didn’t[work on the shoes]came up with ideas early on,” Burchett said. “They later gave their critique of how the shoes should look when they’re done.”
Photos of the final shoes were submitted to Vans on April 15th. Vans will select its top 50 and announce it on April 25, Burchett said. “There is a very short window of two weeks to get votes from the public to decide who will receive the $50,000 prize.” The remaining top five will also receive cash prizes.
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“Even though we don’t make the top 50, Ms. Bendy and I are new (art) teachers here and we’re still learning about the kids, so this has been a great team builder,” Burchett said. “It shows them that you can do this special thing. We will build on that and help bring the art of Central High School to the community.”
If Central wins the $50,000, the plan is to add an art gallery to the school and buy some pottery wheels and other art items that will benefit everyone.
Junior Elliott Vasconcelos is a skateboarder and owns a few Vans, so he immediately felt comfortable designing a custom shoe.
“My mom and I always loved the documentary ‘Lords of Dogtown,’ which documents the skateboarding industry in Venice, California,” said Vasconcelos. “There were no skate parks, so as people learned, they built homemade ramps and emptied swimming pools.”
To capture this on a Vans loafer, he covered the outside with cardboard faux mosaic tiles and a “No Diving” sign.
“My shoe is about the beginnings of skateboarding as a sport, as an art,” he said. “The hardest part was getting a lot of fine detail into a small and limited space.”
To elaborate on the swimming pool idea, Vasconcelos said he bent a wire into the shape of a ladder and added plastic steps. “I wanted it to be artistically ambiguous, but also to make sure there wasn’t any confusion,” he explained.
Vasconcelos credited his teacher with the idea of collaging photos of Vans stores inside the shoes to make the design feel complete.
Newcomer Kayley Crowe created the Great Smoky Mountains themed shoe. “My first thought was that it was super exciting that Vans had chosen our school from a number of others and it’s a great opportunity,” Crowe said.
“I thought about what would catch other people’s attention, like a nature theme of the Smoky Mountains, and we added the roller coaster for Dollywood.”
Crowe added paper mountain bikers, sculpted a bear, and added felted wood for the trees and tinfoil for a meandering river. “I also spent some more time painting and sculpting things for the city-themed Knoxville shoe,” she said.
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“The hardest part was the composition,” Crowe said. “We raised the shoe with foam to reflect the mountains and give it more contrast to the other flatter shoes. We wanted it to be pleasing to the eye and to look good from all angles – not too crowded or too busy – we’re just trying to find the right balance.”
To cast your vote, look for a link on Knoxville Central High School’s website or follow Cheryl Burchett on her school Instagram account @Mrs.b_in_tn.