EAST MANATEE -- The designs on the pottery are transforming into the spirit of a cormorant, Kelsey Lutzi said.
It's a significant bird in the culture of the indigenous people, she explained.
The artist will soon be entering her junior year at Braden River High School.
On Friday, she spent the morning there putting the finishing touches on her painting of a Native American woman decorating a piece of pottery.
It was the final day of Realize Bradenton's Project Art Connects.
The second-year of a three-year program, it brings art and history teachers, visiting artists, historians and environmental experts to work with about 20 local students.
They are working in a 2-by-8 foot format so selected pieces can be fabricated and made into banners for the redesigned Bradenton Riverwalk opening Oct. 18.
While their peers spent the past three weeks sunbathing, gaming and secretly reading "Fifty Shades of Grey," these high school and college students researched the county's histo
ry and created art based on their explorations.
A visit to the South Florida Museum's Tallant Collection inspired Lutzi's artwork.
"I was thinking 'Flight of a Soul,'" she said of its title. "But that's iffy."
Logan Jones laughed.
He will also be a junior at Braden River High School.
His laptop screen displayed a picture, which he sketched, scanned and then colored in Photoshop, of a manatee using a "shell phone."
"It's inspired by J.C. Leyendecker, an illustrator for the Saturday Evening Post," Jones said.
"The shell phone is symbolic of the progress in the county. The Native Americans here didn't have easy access to stone so they had to make tools out of shells."
Chantal Varon, 20, studying at State College of Florida, also depicted a Native American woman with pottery.
But her work shows mullets and catfish pouring out the top.
"It symbolizes life coming out," she said.
Sarah Toedman, who graduated this year from Braden River High School and will begin classes at SCF next month, created an oil wash that shows life in the 1920s.
It's a painting of Victory, a steamboat that connected Tampa, St. Petersburg and Bradenton.
The artist based her work on a black-and-white photograph.
"I saw it and pictured two people starting their lives here," she said.
The instructors are guiding the students' investigations and use of historical documents as well as objects, museum exhibitions and oral history accounts.
Also working with Art Connects students this summer are artists Don Brandes and Jean Blackburn.
Both have been commissioned to do "Postcards from a Friendly City," works of public art that will be displayed along Riverwalk.
In addition to banners accompanying the "postcards," the students' work will be available for viewing at www.DowntownMattersBlog.com.
Johnette Isham, the executive director of Realize Bradenton, spent Friday working with the students, just as she had done on numerous occasions throughout the program.
"I was absolutely impressed and proud about how the students applied their newfound knowledge of the community and Manatee River into creating pieces of art to be shared with the community," she said.
"They are serving as ambassadors for Manatee County."
Wade Tatangelo, features writer/columnist, can be reached at 941-745-7057. Follow him at Twitter.com/wtatangelo.