Art on Her Sleeve

Lakota Art Teacher and Princeton School Board Member Jodi Kessler Embraces Art + Education with a Dress Showcasing Student Artwork

Art takes many forms in Jodi Kessler’s day-to-day life. As a Lakota art and photography teacher, she teaches students different visual techniques and skills to create pieces of their own. Outside the classroom doors, Jodi expresses herself through fashion, designing eccentric clothing from suits made of chocolate to dresses resembling mushrooms. 

This past year, Jodi found a new way to combine her love for fashion and passion for education: a dress that showcases student artwork. Jodi, who was elected to the Princeton City Schools Board of Education in November, 2021, created a dress that featured student art pieces from every school building within the district. For Jodi, this project was a perfect way to support Princeton and its arts education. Having received her bachelor’s and master’s degree in art education from Miami University, focusing on this aspect is especially important to Jodi. 

“[Becoming a school board member] was a scary move because I’m not a politician. I’m an art teacher,” Jodi says. “So one of the things I wanted to do once I got elected was to show everyone I support the arts. As a Board member, I am a supporter of the arts and that’s how the idea of the dress came up.” 

Jodi was first inspired to take on the task of creating the dress after seeing another art educator, 2020 Indiana Teacher of the Year Katie Pourcho, wearing an outfit that was painted by her elementary students. Jodi reached out to Pourcho via Twitter, and after messaging with the teacher, the goal was solidified in her mind. To begin the process of constructing the dress, Jodi reached out to art teachers at every school building, asking them to send her a digital version of a piece of art from their school. 

However, what Jodi thought would be a simple fashion piece quickly changed after she reached out to a friend, Lindsey Young, to enlist help sewing the dress. Lindsey, a seamstress, along with her husband Nick, a designer, helped create new designs for the dress and determine the important details which Jodi says “just took [the dress] next level” and “made this dream come true for me.” 

“We had to make all these decisions,” Jodi says. “Did we want it shiny? Did we want it to be denim? What accent color fabric? What kind of buttons did we want? It was just really fun and turned out way better than I ever thought it would.” 

So far, Jodi has worn her dress to three local events. Her first time wearing the dress was to her first Princeton Board of Education meeting after being elected. Next, she wore the piece to a fundraising event, the Princeton Gala. However, the event that made her dress feel the most surreal was the Princeton Festival of the Arts. At this event, Jodi saw the same familiar student artwork displayed on her dress in a whole new light. 

“People were taking pictures of me almost like I was a work of art,” she says. “I had never seen the actual student art [in-person because] it had been emailed to me. I was standing there wearing art that I was looking at for the first time and some of it was bigger and some of it was smaller. Some of it was three-dimensional. I was seeing the art totally differently than the way I’d seen it on my dress and that was really cool.” 

Having received positive reactions to her dress, Jodi has set her sights on creating a new piece that features students who came into Princeton not speaking English as their primary language. 

“I want [the students] to know that they’re being seen,” Jodi says. “I think that’s the whole goal of art–to be seen. You’re making something for someone to see. I wanted to show that I see and I appreciate what [students] do.” 

For the upcoming 2022-23 school year, Jodi will be taking on a new position as an art teacher for Lakota Central. While she may hold many different titles–artist, educator, designer and school board member–all of Jodi’s work, including the dress, connect back to her core beliefs. 

“I love positivity and showcasing kids,” Jodi says. “I love helping people believe in themselves, interacting with people, hearing their stories and trying to help them. That’s my core belief–just trying to move things forward, staying positive and empowering people.” 

Thanks to Paul Stumpf and the Liberty Township Historical Society for access to the historic Hughes Schoolhouse.

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