The Great Santini

Retiring art teacher’s students made school’s walls and ceilings come alive

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Michelangelo’s greatest work may be on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel in Vatican City. But Bruno Santini is quite proud of the artistic mark he left behind on the ceilings all over IN-Tech Academy.

In fact, it was Santini who first brought the idea of painting the ceiling tiles of the Tibbett Avenue school when he first arrived 14 years ago. Each tile is physically removed, then transformed into masterpieces by students before being re-placed into its original spot.

It was just one of many projects Santini has brought to IN-Tech over the years, so much that after the school’s recent graduation, his art room was filled with dozens of students hunched over canvases, completing unfinished artwork before Santini hung up his own classroom paintbrushes for good. 

That’s because in the fall, IN-Tech will open its doors without Santini for the first time, as he explores a new artistic frontier: retirement. 

“Do you have any idea how much we’re going to miss you, Santini?” said Saige Welsh, a rising senior. But Santini wasn’t listening, distracted by another student who spilled neon orange paint on the floor.

Santini made his mark on IN-Tech over the years, not only through his digital media club and guidance of the school’s yearbook committee, but with his ceiling art. And art is everywhere in Santini’s classroom — on tables, all over the walls, and yes, on the ceiling.

“When I see a student who hasn’t done anything and they do a tile, I feel good about it, and they feel great about it too,” Santini said. 

Generations of artwork from IN-Tech students and a sprinkle of alumni fill Santini’s classroom. One student even helped salvage a failing grade by painting a portrait of the art teacher himself, Santini joked.

Art is even found on Santini’s body. Although he doesn’t encourage his students to get tattoos, if they are ever so compelled, Santini pushes them to at least design their own. As Santini rolled up his sleeves and pants leg, he revealed an ichthus — also known as the Christian fish, the oldest representation of Christianity — in sky blue on his forearm. On his calf is a picture of San Giovanni de Capestrano in a rust red robe he modeled after his son. 

There is no such thing as good or bad art, just different art, Santini said. He wouldn’t grade the final project on how it turned out, but more so on the enthusiasm, creativity and work ethic his students displayed in class.

Retirement doesn’t mean Santini is out of ideas. He’ll continue painting on vacations, and in his home studio where he’ll illustrate a children’s book based on his grandchild. 

Santini is a special teacher who found a way of making school feel like an escape, said Julio Velazquez, an incoming junior.

“I needed a place to run away, and Santini helped me to discover my talents,” Velazquez said. “He is very chill and open, and if you’re not having a good day, he’s always like, ‘You can just stay here.’” 

At one point Santini even helped a depressed student simply by spending time with him, and providing a space to relax. 

As Santini walked around his classroom for one of his final times, observing his students’ work, he looked at all of it with a sense of pride — and ensuring the work leaving his student gallery is finished work. 

“We have had several projects this year,” Santini said. “And even though I’m retiring, that doesn’t mean I’m leaving projects half done.”

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