This article is part of the following categories:
Academics & Enrichment Auctions Fundraising Ideas & Profiles

  • Print  Print 
    AddThis Social Bookmark Button

Auction Gold: Student Art Projects

Keepsakes created by students make extremely popular auction items. Here's how one group with a slew of creative ideas cashed in.

by Bethany Kandel

August 2005

The bidding was fierce at a Saturday night auction in New York City last March for a set of six framed, hand-painted watercolors. The artists, however, weren't there to watch all the excitement; they were home in bed. After all, they were only 5 years old.

By the end of the night, dozens of pieces of original artwork done by these kindergartners and their fellow elementary school students at P.S. 166 on Manhattan's Upper West Side had raked in more than $8,000 as part of a schoolwide auction total of $50,000.

The six paintings alone sold for $1,540—more than two high-profile items combined: a wine tasting for 25 people and tickets to see a Temptations and Four Tops concert, complete with backstage passes and photo op with the performers.

At many New York City schools, both public and private, the parent group holds an annual auction as a major fundraiser. Along with donations of gift certificates from local businesses and restaurants, packaged gift baskets, and services offered by parents (from chess lessons to sessions with a personal trainer), it's often traditional for each class to make a unique project to be offered for sale during the live or silent auction.

These collaborative masterpieces include hand-painted footstools with each child's thumbprint, bookshelves decoupaged with student drawings, decorated toy boxes, and books and CDs of original stories and poetry.

The P.S. 166 Parent Association sends out a list of suggested projects to class representatives early in the year and encourages parents, teachers, and students to get creative. Many projects start with inexpensive items ready for decorating. They're acquired from unfinished-wood furniture stores, craft suppliers, even Ikea and Wal-Mart.

Some projects are purely whimsical (a decorative kite made for hanging, not flying), while others relate to what the students are learning in school (a book of Iroquois names). What's great about these collaborative efforts is that everyone gets involved to give something back to the school, says Deborah Lott, P.S. 166 PA auction co-chairwoman. Even better, she adds, they raise big bucks for PA-supported enrichment and tutoring programs, computer labs, science kits, musical instruments, books, and other supplies.

Resources A-Z

Looking for information on top fundraising companies or other parent group products and services? Find all that and more in minutes in our Yellow Pages.

Parents have been known to spend thousands on a glitter-and-glue-encrusted object they don't need and can't use, simply because their kids participated and they want to own it or because they want to make a substantial donation to the school. "The children get very caught up in the projects and have a lot of pride in their workmanship," Lott says. "They hear all about the auction, and it's their only contribution; they want to feel they're part of it." The only problem, she says, is that each child knows mommy and daddy are going to the auction, and they want them to bring home the project they participated in. But not everyone gets the prize.

One parent who got carried away this past year was Buffy Perry. She desperately wanted the Andy Warhol-style self-portraits done in fluorescent blue-and-green tones by her son Zachary's third-grade class; they go with the Statue of Liberty retrospective done in oranges and reds by her daughter Taylor's class for the auction three years ago.

After a heated bidding war, Perry beat out another family with a total of $1,300. "I couldn't quite believe we spent so much, but I had promised Zachary, so we had no cap," she says. "The look on my son's face when I told him we won made it money well-spent." Plus, she says, it's a beautiful piece of art that hangs in the entryway to her home, opposite her daughter's. "It was a great project and a great cause, and it will have lasting memories. It will be fun for Zachary to see what his interpretation of himself was at 8 when he's 18."

Artists at Work

The process of creating auction items can be a fun class experience. One Tuesday afternoon before the auction, the first-floor hallway of the school was covered with a clear shower curtain. Excited kindergartners in class K-102 decorated it with their own renditions of themselves.

While many of her classmates drew simple round circles, added ears, mouth, nose, and eyes, and quickly signed their names, Annabelle Schultz took her time. The 5-year-old carefully shaped her mouth like a bright red heart, added spidery black eyelashes, long brown hair slightly flipped at the ends, and earrings, all with a background of spring flowers. Nearby, Atash Massiri drew himself as a vampire—that year's Halloween costume.

Down the hall, kindergarten teacher Stephanie Pappas laid out large pieces of paper on several tables and had students rotate to each, filling in details of their neighborhoods with crayons. "This is a real group effort," she explained as the children put in a sun, flowers, rainbows, stores, dogs, even artist Christo's saffron gates that hung in nearby Central Park.

Rate This Article:

(18 Votes)


  1. Posted by - Debbie on Sep. 09, 2011

    I am considering heading up this kind of project but want to tweak it to include more families in our rural, low-income area. Instead of this being an auction, I want to make it a raffle where every parent would have the chance to win the art projects. We have 30 pre-k through 5th grade classes so even if we only sold $50 in tickets for each project, we would still make $1500. (I expect it would be much higher as some will purchase multiple tickets.)
    I'm also considering asking each parent to contribute $1 towards the costs associated with the projects. Bookcases, shower curtains, step stools, paint, decoupage, etc would get mighty pricey for 30 classrooms.
  2. Posted by - Kara Hade on Jan. 15, 2010

    Hi, I'm head mom or project leader for my daughter's 4th grade class auction project.

    I'm very interested in the Andy Warhol style self portraits done by 4th graders that you mention on this site.

    Can you provide any other additional info about this project?

    Did the children draw their portrait first and then paint over it?

    About how big was the finished canvas containing the other portraits?

    Do you have any photos of the finished project?

    Thank you so much,

    Kara Hade

    P.S. 199 Parent
  3. Posted by - Cheryl Motsenbocker on Oct. 30, 2009

    I would love to see a picture of the Andy Warhol painting as well!! Sounds cool!!
  4. Posted by - Sydney on Oct. 19, 2009

    Does anyone have a picture of the finished pewter tray project? What kind of drawings did the children do? Was there a theme to the trays?
  5. Posted by - Juliet Schreiner on Sep. 30, 2009

    I want to do the andy warhol-type self portraits for our fourth grade auction project. I would like to see the finished project described above and some direction on how you worked with the children to make it.
  6. Posted by - Teresa on Sep. 23, 2009

    I am at a loss for our 7th grade project this year! Last year we did a great project where I took hats and boas and suit coats and ties and the kids all dressed up and I took lots of black and white photos of them on the playground as well as a class picture and individuals. We decopauged a black trunk with the playground photos covering the inside lid. The class photo was in the center. The outside had the individual photos of each child. It turned out so well and everyone wanted their child's photo so we had 8 x 10 individual photos autographed. I had asked each child to write on a 3 x 5 index card what they wanted to be when they grew up which I added to the individual photos that the parents could purchase in the country store. I put Future Lawyer, Doctor, Teacher, Race Car Driver etc. Our little class is very dramatic so this project fit them perfertly. Now What?!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
  7. Posted by - Kerry on Sep. 17, 2009

    We hold an auction each year and we have set the teachers with projects. The teachers do the same project each year and it takes the guess work out of it and the kids look forward to the projects each year.
  8. Posted by - Lisa Gundlach on Sep. 03, 2009

    Hi Mary- Sorry this article is several years old and we don't have the information about the pewter trays. A comment above brings up a good idea: try some second hand stores for trays. Another alternative would be to get a wooden tray that can be found at any of the large craft stores.
    ~Lisa @ PTO Today
  9. Posted by - Mary on Sep. 01, 2009

    I do not see any responses to those who inquired about the pewter trays. I would also love to know more about this project. Does anyone have any info or photos?
  10. Posted by - Lisa on Mar. 09, 2009

    For the tile framed chalk board and cork board, where did you get the boards from?
  11. Posted by - Becky on Mar. 05, 2009

    To Ashley. You can find a very inexpensive pewter tray at a second hand store. It doesn't have to be perfect. After the primer and paint and pictures and sealant it will fill in any inperfections.
  12. Posted by - Jackie Barwick on Feb. 20, 2009

    I need as much info. as I can get on the pewter tray idea.
  13. Posted by - Ashley on Jan. 20, 2009

    I just wanted to know if anyone received more detail information on the pewter tray project. I, too, think this would be adorable but not sure of the cost benefit. Where do you find inexpensive pewter trays? What is the details of the process to get to the finished product? Thanks so much for your help.
  14. Posted by - Kate on Jan. 20, 2009

    Hi Jackie

    I am also in a bind for a 7th grade project. Some ideas for you . We took sculpy clay and rolled it ou and cut it into 2.5 by 2.5 size squares. We used browns and gold and black for colors. We gave the kids extra clay and had them decorate the tiles. Some did it in 3D other just made designs in the clay. We baked them and then rubbed mettalic paint over them. We then framed a cork board and a chalk board with the tiles (the cork board was black) and framed out the tiles in a larger black frame. They looked great. Finished size was about 24x24. THe project was very easy and went together quickly. Do you have any other ideas?
  15. Posted by - Jackie on Jan. 20, 2009

    I am headroom mom for 7th grade. We need to come up with an idea for a class project for the annual auction! Any idea's would be greatly appreciated!
    Past years we created a book of haiku's (each child created one), another year we created a "pop-art" of each child and printed out poster size. It was a great success. I am at a loss this year!
  16. Posted by - Mona Roussel on Jan. 08, 2009

    Do you have to prime and paint the pewter tray before applying the pictures, or can the pictures be placed directly on the pewter finish?

    Mona Roussel
    St. Joan of Arc School
    LaPlace, LA
  17. Posted by - Rosa on Dec. 02, 2008

    I'm working on a first grade class project and wanted to know where to get the materials for the pewter trays.

    Thank you
  18. Posted by - julie on Nov. 18, 2008

    I am curious how you did the books with original stories. I would love to do this for our auction, but am not for sure where to start.

    Thank you
  19. Posted by - Glenn on Sep. 30, 2008

    Could some please respond to Linda and Cheryl as I had the same questions?
  20. Posted by - Cheryl T. on Sep. 27, 2008

    I am interested in the Pewter Tray Project and would also like to know more about the products and applications used to complete this project. And can you tell me, where do you find pewter trays? Thank you.
  21. Posted by - linda midkiff on Sep. 15, 2008

    i came across your descriptions for the class project you did and was truly impressed. i have a question about the technique used for the first description about the pewter tray. can you tell me after the acrylic is sprayed onto the reduced artwork how is the image adhered to the pewter tray? what type of adhesive was used and what type of sealant? was there a specific grade paper used for the reduced artwork?

Add Comment