Sunday, September 25, 2022

Let it snow: Grafton High art students decorate VDOT plows

Snow plow artists at Grafton High
Students at Grafton High School recently overcame several design challenges to turn snowplow blades into public art. “It’s very graphically oriented,” said their teacher, Tiffany Heiser. (Photo courtesy York County School Division).

Some young art students from Yorktown have a special reason to hope for wintry weather this year. And it has nothing to do with snow days.

Thanks to a collaboration between the York County School Division and the Virginia Department of Transportation, several snowplows in the Historic Triangle will feature student artwork this winter.

It all began before Thanksgiving for 11 students in Tiffany Heiser’s advanced Art II class at Grafton High School. That’s when they faced a unique challenge: how to decorate a snowplow blade, a concave and large surface.

“It’s kind of like a mural,” Heiser said in a phone interview.

Her students were placed into two groups to complete the project, and faced their fair share of design challenges throughout.

They had to work with enamel paint, the only paint that would adhere to the blade’s metal surface.

They only had a limited palate of enamels to work with: black, white, red and blue. The colors couldn’t be blended or mixed.

And they had a tight deadline. They began on Friday, Nov. 18 and finished two weeks later on Friday, Dec. 2.

At first, the students were a bit nervous, Heiser said, because the assignment was different from their other projects, which they typically work on inside the classroom.

“When they got outside, they had a blast,” she said.

Within eight hours, she added, they had transformed the snowplows into works of art.

One of the blades now has an anchor design. The other has a ship, a nod to the school’s mascot, which is a clipper ship.

The artwork will be fleeting, though, since chemicals and plowing will cause the designs to fade within about a year, according to Heiser. By next year, they’ll have another blank canvas.

VDOT did not respond to a request for comment before publication.

Several area high schools are painting snowplows, according to an email from Paula Miller, Communications Manager for VDOT Hampton Roads. The other participating schools are Bruton High School, York High School and Tabb High School.

Still, the project serves as a tribute to school spirit and the visual arts, Heiser said.

“It’s also kind of a celebration for us as well,” she added. “They did a fantastic job.”

This story has been updated to include information from VDOT about additional participating schools. Also, the name of the Grafton teacher is Tiffany Heiser.

Joan Quigley
Joan Quigley is a former Miami Herald business reporter, a graduate of Columbia Journalism School and an attorney. Her writing has appeared in the Washington Post,, and Talking Points Memo. Her recent book, Just Another Southern Town: Mary Church Terrell and the Struggle for Racial Justice in the Nation’s Capital, was shortlisted for the 2017 Mark Lynton History Prize. Her first book, The Day the Earth Caved In: An American Mining Tragedy, won the 2005 J. Anthony Lukas Work-in-Progress Award.

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