Unofficial school mascot inspires art in Westbrook

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WESTBROOK – A local housecat turned unofficial school mascot, Simba is one of the most recognizable faces around Westbrook High School – and lately, even more so.

Simba has been featured in an art display in the third-floor hallway as part of the school’s annual art show. Simba, “the superintendent of cool,” according to the students, was chosen as the theme for this year’s annual art department fundraiser, which raises money to award the student art show winners with gift certificates for art supplies.

Every year the high school art department chooses a theme for a fundraising event. In the past, students have asked friends and family to donate what they could and in return they would get either a print or an original piece of artwork from one of the students. But this year, the fundraiser really took off, allowing the art department to give out more awards than in the past.

“We’ve raised almost $1,000 so far,” said Deb Bickford, an art teacher at the school.

According to Carol Connor, the director of art for Westbrook schools, that’s a few hundred more dollars than they have earned in the past.

The fundraiser, said Connor, “is always a group effort, I thought about what is it that would excite the school community, what they could rally around and respond to – Simba. He’s been a constant here for their high school years. The kids love and adore him, even the people who don’t like cats. He has an effect on them, too.”

Simba is treated like just another member of the staff while on school grounds. The cat doesn’t live at the school – owner Eileen Shutts lives only a few blocks away. No one is quite sure how Simba first made his journey to the school’s front doors. It’s thought that he might have followed his previous owner’s children to high school and then did the same when Shutts adopted him, but what is known is 13 years ago he followed math teacher Tina Soucy into the building and has been returning on an almost-daily basis ever since.

“I’ve seen him get kicked out of class, nicely. It depends on what the students are doing and how the cat is behaving. You’ll see a student carrying him out of the door asking their teacher why he can’t stay in class. He doesn’t go into very many classrooms, but he greets everyone,” Connor said.

The aging feline is also a presence in the art rooms. When they were told their fundraising theme was going to be Simba, many students didn’t have a hard time imagining the cat in different positions or using one of the many pictures snapped by administration, teachers and fellow students.

Sammantha Russell, 17, used pastels to create a picture of Simba based on a scene from “The Lion King,” where the main characters, a cub named Simba and his father, the king of the lions, sit on the edge of a rock overlook in Africa.

Victoria Simoneau, 18, used photographs of Simba to create two of her pieces, but the third took on a different inspiration.

“I wanted to be able to express him in many different way, he has a great personality for a cat. I was inspired by the famous ‘Gangnam Style,’ that’s what brought on the third,” she said.

In her “Simba Style” piece, the cat is pictured miming the dance for Psy’s 2012 hit, “Gangnam Style.”

The art department has been selling reprints and note cards of the art pieces created by students. The Simba fundraiser officially ended on Tuesday, but the posters and note cards can still be purchased.

Students are showing other original pieces created throughout the course of the year during the art show. More than 150 students have pieces displayed along the third-floor hallway. Paintings, pen-and-ink sketches, digital pieces, photography and three-dimensional projects will be on display until Thursday, May 3, from 6-7:30 p.m.

Victoria Simoneau, left, and Sammantha Russell stand in front of their art pieces in the Simba fundraiser wall, displayed on the third floor of Westbrook High School.