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Briding the Gap

"X" by Mary Kolber of Kenmore East High School (clay, mixed media, 2008).

The art show is called Bridging the Gap: Connecting Through Clay. It’s about taking art education to the next level, specifically from high school to college and beyond.

But it could as well be called “passing it on.” Because it’s really about something much more than the next level of artwork. It’s about what art teachers teach and students learn in their high school art classes.

Which is much more than art in the usual sense of the word. Drawing, painting, sculpture.

Lewiston-Porter teacher Brett Coppins describes it as prompting and encouraging students to “ask the questions that have no simple answers, or no answers whatsoever.” Kenmore East teacher Matthew SaGurney thinks of high school art education as “young artists discovering their personalities, questioning their existence in the world, observing the ways of contemporary society, learning timeless discipline, being curious and open to new ideas, inventing and playing, taking risks and taking notes, empowering…” Lancaster teacher Ann Perry-Smith describes the learning experience as “living in the moment.” Art happens, she says, “when we look at what is touching our lives, what is personal and intimate.” Pioneer system teacher Scott Losi thinks of the subject matter of art education as “creative thinking and problem solving, work ethic, commitment, craftsmanship, goal setting…”

The show is at the Burchfield Penney Art Center and it consists of selected ceramics artworks by current or former students of the above four teachers. All four teachers (and artists in their own right) specialize in ceramics, and the ceramics theme connects to the current Art in Craft Media headliner show at the gallery.

Notable among the student works are Kodi Tidd’s superb Matis Hunter, which is part ceramic vessel, or really double vessel, part human figure, with reference to the Brazilian indigenous Matis people. And Joshua Kraft’s piece Circulation, consisting of segmented, bamboo-like, rugged-finished, ceramic tubules stuffed, threaded, with a white-wool-fiber-like pith matter. In an explanatory note, Kraft says his work is about “fragile systems of dependency, giving and taking, decaying in order to rejuvenate.”

Most of the students whose works are on show are heading or have already gone off to college as art majors. But even the ones not heading for an art career seem to enormously value their high school art training.

Kayla Collins, whose art piece, entitled Test Results, consists of some two dozen cameo portraits of a variety of human and semi-human figures, says, “I miss the gritty feel of clay and the feeling that anything is possible,” but avers that the “things I learned in high school and especially in Advanced Ceramics and AP-3D Design would become the best tools I took with me to college and into real life.”

Sara Oliphant, whose piece is a large ceramic skeleton-type key, with affixed smaller keys, is now pursuing a degree in international relations. She talks about how she sees her high school art experience as bridging the gap toward an eventual career in Foreign Service. She says, “Without the skills I attained [in high school art], I would not have been able to conjure such a career aspiration.”

Lessons in life from art. Colleen Frantz’ piece, called The Denial and Acceptance of My Future, is a set of clay bottles, each with a different clay label plate. She says the work was a way for her to alleviate the stress of thinking about college. “Each plate represents a career I have thought about for my future.” She says the work helped her “discover that indecisiveness is OK.”

Among other interesting student works in the show, Sara Minchon’s multi-part piece constitutes an elaborate fictional narrative about sea turtles as metaphor, apparently, for her own personal development. In the piece, a sea turtle sheds its carapace, each plate of which is labeled with a not so helpful personal characteristic, like “morose” or “lachrymose,” much the way a snake sheds its skin, leaving the turtle naked and vulnerable-looking for the time being, but seemingly ready for some kind of new start in its life. In her explanatory material, the artist talks about her affection for sea turtles and what they mean to her. “They are majestic and live a long time, and see a lot of action. I have seen a lot. Experienced things I didn’t necessarily know how to handle. I think I have shed some of the things I don’t need anymore. The armor, and am moving toward the fragile future.”

The Bridging the Gap show will be up through Christmas.

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