When Central High School art teacher Cheryl Burchett told her students they could participate in the Custom Culture of Vans shoe design contest, she got instant membership.
“We were chosen and we are one of 250 schools nationwide,” Burchett said.
“Immediately they said it was amazing and started drawing their ideas.”
As part of the contest, students are given blank Vans shoes to use as canvas. One pair must represent “Hometown Pride”. The second shows the legacy of the founder of the Van’s Shoe company, who passed away this year.
Students worked during lunch and after school. “Even those who didn’t (work on the shoes) brought their ideas in early on,” Burchett said. “Later they offered their review on what the shoes should look like when finished.”
Photos of the final shoes were submitted to Vans on April 15. Vans will select its top 50 shoes and announce them on April 25, Burchett said. “There is a very short window of two weeks to get the votes from the public, who will decide who will take home the $50,000 prize.” The rest of the top five will also receive cash prizes.
“Even though we’re not in the top 50, Ms. Bendy and I are new (art) teachers here and we’re still getting to know the kids, so it’s been a great team builder,” Burchett said. . “It shows them that you can do that special thing. We will build on this and help bring Central High School art into the community.
If Central wins the $50,000, the plan is to add an art gallery to the school and purchase pottery wheels and other art supplies that will benefit everyone.
Junior Elliott Vasconcelos is a skateboarder and owns a few pairs of Vans, so right away he was comfortable designing a custom shoe.
“My mom and I have always loved the documentary ‘Lords of Dogtown,’ which documents the skateboarding industry in Venice, California,” Vasconcelos said. “There were no skate parks, so when people learned, they made homemade ramps and they emptied the pools.”
To capture this on a Vans slip-on shoe, he covered the exterior with faux cardstock mosaic tiles and a “No Diving” sign.
“My shoe is about the early days of skateboarding as a sport, an art,” he said. “The hardest part was getting a lot of fine detail into a small, finite space.”
To incorporate the pool idea, Vasconcelos said he bent wire into the shape of a ladder and added plastic steps. “I wanted it to be artistically ambiguous but also not to be confusing,” he explained.
Vasconcelos credited his teacher with the idea of sticking pictures of Vans stores inside the shoes to make the design feel whole.
Freshman Kayley Crowe created the Great Smoky Mountains-themed shoe. “My first thought was that it was super exciting that Vans chose our school over a bunch of others and this is a great opportunity,” Crowe said.
“I thought of what would catch others’ attention, like a Smoky Mountains nature theme, and we added the roller coaster for Dollywood.”
Crowe included paper mountain bikers, sculpted a bear, and added felted wood for the trees and tin foil for a meandering river. “I also spent more time painting and sculpting things for the city-themed Knoxville shoe,” she said.
“The hardest part was the composition,” Crowe said. “We elevated the shoe with foam to reflect the mountains and give it more contrast to the other flatter shoes. We wanted to make it appealing to the eye and look good from every angle – not too much of a not too crowded – just trying to find the right balance.
To vote, look for a link on the Knoxville Central High School website or follow Cheryl Burchett on her school’s Instagram account @Mrs.b_in_tn.