Queens Village students get lesson in ‘Cerealism’
By Rich Bockmann

The works of Salvador Dalí and Pablo Picasso may be a bit too heady as a means to teach second-graders about the human condition, but for one Queens Village class, “cerealism” is the perfect way to learn their shapes.

While visiting her local library on Long Island, teacher Michele Sedlmaier happened to come across a postcard created by pop artist Michael Albert.

The card depicted a print of Sir Real Tangerine Man, a tuxedoed gentleman set to a collaged, geometric background Albert had created for the label of his brand of citrus juice.

Sedlmaier grabbed a handful of cards, which included Sir Real Lemon and Orange men, and brought them back to her class at PS 33, at 91-37 222nd St., with an assignment to write a story about the characters.

Lemon Man became Mr. Lemonhead, who, in 7-year-old Matthew’s story, meets Miss Lemonhead one day during an outing.

“He was lonely so he went to the store. She’s trying to reach up for the lemonade and she asked for help,” he explained. “She has a scarf around her head and she’s embarrassed and she goes running out of the store so he chases after her. But then she realizes she’s a lemonhead just like him and they start laughing. And then they get married.”

Sedlmaier sent the stories to Albert, who was so moved to have inspired the young creative minds that he paid a visit to the class, which in the meantime had created their own versions of his cerealism works — collages created from cereal boxes — as they learned about different geometric shapes.

“If I say, ‘Today we are going to learn,’ the kids are just like, ugh. But if I say we’re going to make pictures out of cereal boxes, they’re so excited,” she said. “What kid doesn’t love Tony the Tiger?”

While Albert’s works deconstruct the familiar boxes to certain extremes, the students’ projects are more fundamental, sticking to learning about parallel, perpendicular and diagonal lines, but the essence of the form remains.

“Everyone recognizes so many of the letters. Suddenly there’s like hundreds of things on one artwork that can connect us together,” Albert said. “It’s like, I know that letter is from this Frosted Flakes package. It becomes a game to recognize it.”

Albert said he experienced firsthand the way art can push a curious mind when he spent five months recreating the Gettysburg Address out of the letters on cereal boxes.

“I read a series of books on Lincoln, and watched movies on Lincoln and the Civil War,” he said. “I learned so much about Gettysburg that I never would have sought out if I didn’t do that project.”

Sedlmaier’s students took their own try at a similar project, turning the Pledge of Allegiance into a collage that hangs on the classroom wall, along with a year’s worth of art projects.

Albert said his highest aspiration is to create a work of art that could some day hang in a museum for posterity, but he also gets quite a kick out of seeing creations inspired by his work hanging on a classroom wall.

“I never would have imagined at the beginning when I was creating art with that goal that I would have inspired young people to learn,” he said.

Reach reporter Rich Bockmann by e-mail at rbockmann@cnglocal.com or by phone at 718-260-4574.

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