Hundreds of hikers will leave Hanging Rock State Park this Saturday with a sense of accomplishment after completing the annual Reach the Peaks hiking challenge, but what they may not know is they will also be leaving with a piece of art hand crafted right here in Stokes County.
Pre-registrants for the hiking challenge will be getting an official Reach the Peaks t-shirt, each of which is hand printed by staff and students in the North Stokes High School arts department.
Art instructor Janis Henderson-Hunsucker and her students have been busy for the past several weeks screen printing over 600 t-shirts to be distributed at the event, providing students with hands-on training they can put on their resume and helping to raise funds to purchase expensive equipment for the art department.
“We have printed thousands of shirts over the years,” said Henderson-Hunsucker. “All of the money we raise stays at North Stokes. I have used the money to buy computers, an electric ceramic wheel and an extruder.”
She said her students have printed shirts for each of the past three Reach the Peaks events and several Stokes Stomps, as well as shirts for a variety of school clubs and teams, local non-profits and some family reunions.
“When we have a big project I take all of my students with me over to the wood shop and some work on the shirts while the rest work on their projects,” she said. “I have at least 100 students per semester that get to learn how to do it. They take turns because I want them to get the experience of how to do it.”
The small room where the shirts are printed, affectionately called the “sweat shop” by students because of the heat involved in the printing process, accommodates about four students at a time.
One student prints the shirt using a screen printing press and a plastic-like ink.
“The ink does not dry until it is heated,” said Henderson-Hunsucker, noting that a second student mans a conveyor belt-based heater which sets the design after it has been printed. “If there is any extra ink on the shirts then a third student uses a spot remover to clean it up for us.”
The fourth student helps fold and package the shirts.
Henderson-Hunsucker said the screens are created using a photo sensitive light emulsion.
“You are essentially creating a stencil with the screen,” she explained. “Then the ink goes through the open spaces in the stencil onto the shirt.”
But while the process may seem repetitive, the students enjoy learning how to work the press and the said they take real pride in what they create.
“It is fun,” said student Lauren Kennedy. “Making the screen itself is fun and then putting it on the shirt and seeing the finished product is really amazing. I feel really proud when people from all around are wearing shirts that we have made.”
She said she also really appreciates how their efforts help raise money for the department.
“At the end of all of the work, all of the time put into it, it is very well worth it,” said Kennedy.
“I think they all understand they are contributing to the department,” said Henderson-Hunsucker. “These shirts this year will become a laser printer. If my students take photography, many of them cannot afford to go get their pictures printed, but if I get a laser printer we can print from our Chromebooks in the classroom.”
Henderson-Hunsucker said she normally charges a non-profit a $35 set up fee to create the screen and, if they supply their own blank shirts, $2 per shirt for a one-color printing job and $3 per shirt for a two-color printing job. She said that if any local non-profits needed shirts printed and wanted to help the art department they could reach her by email at Janis.Henderson@stokes.k12.nc.us.
“We are not a product facility, though,” she noted. “The students and their regular work always come first so we are not always the fastest in the world.”
Nicholas Elmes may be reached at 336-591-8191 or on Twitter @NicholasElmes.