VANCOUVER -- A New Westminster elementary school teacher is asking her students to tap into their inner Renoirs and Emily Carrs—but instead of paint and brushes, their materials include stuffed animals, Lego and dolls.

Sara Fox, a Grade 3 and 4 Montessori teacher at Connaught Heights Elementary School, has assigned her students to recreate famous works of art using their toys.

"I came up with it, in a way, out of desperation," she said.

Fox has experience teaching dance and music but not visual arts, a subject she knows her students love. She was forced to take her instruction online because of the COVID-19 pandemic, but her students' regular art teacher was not able to continue her lessons as she'd been asked to instruct the children of essential workers. So Fox tapped into her own creativity to keep the instruction going, assigning her students to use their imaginations to put their own spins on classic works of art.

"They just kept coming in and they were so different and so witty and clever," she said. "I just gave them an opportunity and they ran with it…I just think it's pretty genius what they came up with and it's made me so happy."

Fox says she was inspired to create the assignment after seeing a picture online of someone who had recreated Vermeer's Girl with a Pearl Earring with a pet Dachshund. The painting was clever but not sacrilegious or disrespectful to the original work, she said.

When Fox announced the assignment, she showed students her own version of the project as an example with the hope of inspiring them. She recreated the Mona Lisa with a classroom raccoon puppet named Spinoza subbing for the seated, smiling woman. She nicknamed the piece, The Spinoza Lisa.

Fox says she found recreating the painting a challenge, but she was blown away at the response she got from her students, who took the assignment and ran with it.

Leonardo da Vinci's The Last Supper was reimagined by Fox's student Audrey, who replaced the glasses of wine, plates and apostles in the original with plastic cupcakes, bananas and chubby stuffed animals, including a rotund raccoon and giraffe. She titled her creation, The Squishmallow Supper.

The Squishmallow Supper

Student Angelica recreated the iconic 1930 Grant Wood painting American Gothic using purple and grey stuffed animals. In her version, which she named Stuffie Gothic, a fork replaced the ubiquitous pitchfork from the original and the house in the background was displayed on an iPad.

Stuffie Gothic

In Kai's version of Dogs Playing Poker, the poker chips from the original painting were replaced with potato chips, and the dogs playing cards around the table are plush. Bottles of mini-yogurts stand in place of beer and whiskey, and a clock on the wall hangs in the same place as the grandfather clock from the original.

Dogs Playing Poker

Fox says it's incredibly important for kids to be able to do art, and the project could have fulfilled a deeper need for many of her students as they were isolated at home during the pandemic.

"When they're removed from their friends, removed from extended family and really secluded in the smaller bubble the way that we all were in those first few months, maybe the art was an important release, which didn't occur to me at the time. I just thought they'd find it fun," she said. "But maybe it really was something important...I've looked at these pictures so many times, I still absolutely love them."

To see more of the students' artwork, click through the images below this story.