With tons of brightly colored, handcrafted Bell Totas swaying from the ceiling, students at Dickson are welcoming prosperity in with a magnificent display. 

Dickson middle school and high school students have created an art show that tells the story of the Indian Bell Tota through folk art, which will be on display on campus at the Jerome Westheimer Gallery until Oct. 21. 

The show is decorated with over 90 mobile-style hanging sculptures that rest in the center of the gallery, which is surrounded by posters telling the story of the Bell Totas. Dickson art teacher Leanne West said the idea for the show was inspired by the story of the Bell Totas, which she saw on an art blog. 

The Bell Totas represent prosperity and good luck, something West said they felt they could bring to the school. 

“They stand for good luck,” she said. “So we thought this would be a good project to start everyone off with good luck at the first of the year.” 

While traditionally the Bell Totas are hand sewn, the students used only old magazines and newspapers to make the entire project. Each bird that hangs on the sculptures is five to six newspaper sheets thick, a process many of the students said was challenging at times. 

West said she knew when they began constructing the show spectators may wonder what the inspiration was behind the gallery, so the students lined the outside of the gallery with the story of the Bell Totas, which are traditionally placed in windows and doors and believed to bring good luck. 

“I knew when we hung up the show most people who have a question of who or why,” she said. “They can follow the story and they can read the story. It’s here and they have something to look at and they have the story here as well.”

In addition to the story, West said they wanted to add another layer of their own touch to the concept, which led to them asking students “what does it mean to be prosperous?” The students answers were then placed on the outside of the gallery. 

“Being prosperous to me is where you reach some kind of life achievement or life goal,” Cayden Thompson’s response read. 

“I think to be prosperous means to have shelter, food, and water, and also clothing,” Jakob Cook wrote in response to the question. 

The answers, along with each of the unique, brightly colored birds add to the individuality that makes the gallery standout. 

“Each individual Bell Totas has everyone’s individual character,” said Dickson student Austin Childers. 

“I think all their individual tastes come through because they were allowed to do whatever they wanted,” West said of the decorations. She said she has received tons of feedback and emails on the gallery, with the response being overwhelmingly positive. She said something about the folk art allows people to connect to the work easier than other works of art. 

“We’ve had some of the more renowned artist come in from the area before,” she said of the gallery. “But we’ve had a lot of people that can really connect to it because they can relate to it and they don’t really have to know a lot about art.

“I think that’s really where we’ve pulled in the folk art because it’s just a common understanding they know they like what they see.”

West said the students spent about three weeks on the project, which required them to hand roll the beads and decorate the birds using the newspapers and magazines. She said through all the hard work the students not only were successful with the show, but take great pride in it. 

“The kids are very proud of it and that’s what makes me proud too,” she said. “To see them be so proud of their work makes me very proud.”

“I’m proud cause usually our shows only impress people that have a real understanding of artwork,” Dickson student Rachel White said of the show. “This everyone likes this because it’s colorful and everyone likes to see things hanging from the ceiling.

“We wanted to start off the year with prosperity and good luck.”

West said she is proud of the work the students put into the show and hopes that people will continue to visit the gallery and see their hard work for themselves. 

“I’m very proud. I’m proud of all the kids,” she said. “It’s their hard work. I didn’t roll all the beads and stuff. It could’ve been something they did, you know, just for the grade and move on but they took pride in it and they made sure that they got all their beads rolled and did it correctly and I think they really took that to heart.”