By Jill Keppeler
The Tonawanda News
Tonawanda News — In a way, it’s not just artwork on display in the North Tonawanda school district’s “Creative Visual Arts Student Spotlight.”
It’s also the students themselves.
From self-portraits to effigy pots, the young artists put themselves into their work, said North Tonawanda Middle School art teacher Jacalyn Fernandez. She said the students show a range of emotions when they learn their work is in the show, out where everyone can see it — often excited, but sometimes a little insecure and even afraid.
“I think everybody’s like that a little” when their work is on display, Fernandez said. “I’m like that. Terrified ... but at the same time, they can’t wait. They’re just a little bit more honest about it, I guess.”
The exhibit, which opens with a reception from 6:30 to 7:30 tonight at the Carnegie Art Center on Goundry Street in North Tonawanda, includes more than 100 select works by students from Ohio, Drake, Meadow and Spruce elementary schools and North Tonawanda middle and high schools. Everything from mixed media to computer-generated work and watercolors to clay sculpture is represented.
The yearly show allows the students to have the experience of exhibiting their work in an actual gallery, showing the community what they’re learning and what they can do, said Mary Simpson, Carnegie’s director.
“It’s great,” she said. “We’re always excited that this treasured community asset — an original Carnegie library — is used by the NT community.”
The middle school students’ work was inspired by painter Gustav Klimt, along with still-life drawings and clay sculpture, Fernandez said.
The Native American-inspired effigy pots are decorated with symbols representing things going on in their lives or things they value, along with a representation of their favorite animal. Brightly colored Day of the Dead skulls memorialize a loved one, or even represent students themselves. The clay skulls on display at the center feature decorations including sports equipment, a chef’s hat ... even the NT school logo.
“They’ve done rock stars, themselves or someone who’s passed,” Fernandez said. “I have (artwork representing) two grandmothers on the table over there. There’s a lot of emotion incorporated in these. You don’t always have the words to say what you want to say. It’s nice to have another way of saying it.”
Two of the biggest pieces of art in the exhibit were created by students of middle school art teacher Christina Davis, who produced portraits, laid out on a grid, in which each student drew the contents of one square. The pieces were then assembled for the final product, but the students didn’t know the portraits’ subjects until they were finished.
Davis started the class with portraits of Mitt Romney and Barack Obama around election time, then created a portrait of Abraham Lincoln. For the latest, which hangs in the Carnegie exhibit, Davis chose a picture of 14-year-old Pakistani activist Malala Yousafzai, who was shot by the Taliban in October because of her efforts toward education and women’s rights. She survived, and was recently nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize — the youngest nominee in history.
“I thought she’d be perfect, because she’s the age of the students I’m teaching,” Davis said. “Everything clicked.”
After creating and assembling the portrait, the students watched a documentary on Yousafzai — followed by news coverage of her in her hospital bed after the attack. The realization that someone their age had nearly been killed for demanding a better education, Davis said, led to a classroom discussion on the privilege and right of schooling.
“It’s really a way to introduce things to them in a new way,” Davis said. “We try to pull as much as we can into our art programs, with the limited time and resources that we have.”
On Tuesday, some of the students involved in the show took a break during classes to talk a little about how they felt about the experience and the presence of their work in the show. Seventh-grader Anna Gehl called it “exciting,” as did eighth-grader Salina Alvaredo.
“I think it’s pretty cool that my painting’s in the show,” Alvaredo admitted, “and it makes me feel kind of special.”
Sometimes the pieces that didn’t make it to the show made as much of an impact as those that did. Eighth-grader Veysal Mukhtasimova has a self-portrait in the show, but was visiting the classroom to work on a second attempt at his Day of the Dead skull.
“You have to take your time,” he said. “My first time I did the skull, I rushed and the top was too thin. The second time, I took my time and it turned out better.
“Art ... there’s many different parts. It’s not just drawing. You have to be creative.”
Seventh-grader Ryder Uplinger was working with classmates on “ugly jugs,” an artform with links to African culture and the American South and a project linked to the students’ social studies lessons.
“In other classes, you have to go by guidelines and rules,” he said. “In art, we can express ourselves.”
The show runs through March 22. From 6:30 to 8:30 p.m. March 13, free art activities for elementary-age students will be presented, sponsored by the NT Art Department.IF YOU GO • WHAT: North Tonawanda "Creative Visual Arts Student Spotlight" • WHEN: Opens with a reception from 6:30 to 7:30 tonight. The exhibit runs through March 22. Hours are noon to 3 p.m. Wednesdays to Fridays and noon to 2 p.m. Saturdays. • WHERE: Carnegie Art Center, 240 Goundry St., North Tonawanda. • FOR MORE INFORMATION: Call the center at 694-4400. • ACTIVITY: There will be free art activities for elementary-age students presented from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m. March 13 at the center, sponsored by the NT Art Department.