Student art, law firm form a partnership

Columbia: Partnership with Howard County schools brings bold, bright portraits, landscapes and abstracts into lawyers' firm.

January 23, 2003|By Laura Shovan | Laura Shovan,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

Clients who visit Whiteford, Taylor & Preston's Columbia branch always comment on the artwork. When the small law office relocated recently, the partners and employees decided that instead of stale corporate art, they wanted to hang work that was bold and original.

This month, they put up 37 works by as many artists - portraits, landscapes and abstracts. The art has a common thread: All of it was created by Howard County public school students.

For attorneys and staffers at Whiteford, Taylor & Preston, the art is more than a conversation piece. It has changed the tone of their workspace for the better.

The lobby is filled with bright still lifes and landscapes: a blue vase with a tumble of orange and pink flowers, purple mountains reflecting on a lake. A group of four underwater scenes dominates the boardroom. Under each piece is a placard with the artist's name, grade and school.

Partner Joe Mezzanotte, who helped plan the exhibition, said, "I find it to be a friendly environment. It gives a much brighter atmosphere. It shows a diverse, expressive and risk-taking" group of students.

One of Mezzanotte's favorite pieces is a self-portrait collage by Deandre Bright, who attends Swansfield Elementary. The image is constructed of paper cutouts on a newspaper background with the words "Super Student" running across it.

"I like how it turned out because it was a good picture. ... It looks like me," said Deandre, a second-grader. He said it feels good to know that people are enjoying his artwork.

"I created the background on the paper to make them all feel like they were special and they were in the newspaper," Swansfield art teacher Janice Ford said. "His [Deandre's] I selected because it had a great quality to it. I loved the eyes on it." Several of Ford's pupils are represented in the display.

"It just totally changed the whole office," legal administrative assistant Jenny Selby said. "It's just really uplifting." Because the law firm had recently moved in, the walls were bare. Selby said that seeing the children's art displayed was "like Christmas."

The artwork is on loan from 17 county schools. Submissions were reviewed by a group of county art teachers with the goal of representing students of all levels, grades one through 12.

Last summer, Mezzanotte began working with Linda Newton, resource teacher for visual arts in the county schools, to plan the exhibition in Columbia.

Newton said the criteria were "that they stuck to the Howard County art curriculum and they were quality pieces. We looked for a balance of boys and girls, and a variety of media and techniques."

"It makes the place a lot cheerier whenever you honor the work of students," she said. "There's nothing more wonderful than seeing a child at work - seeing his or her voice."

Whiteford, Taylor & Preston has been exhibiting student art at its Towson office for three years.

"The firm here has a very basic premise," Mezzanotte said, "which is we want to be very involved in the community in which we practice law. ... We came up with this concept of promoting the artistic talent of public school students and giving certificates of achievement and awards to them - basically put in place positive reinforcement for artistic and academic achievement."

The Towson office runs a contest for Baltimore County high school students that has grown to 15 schools and two exhibitions a year. Patrick Reardon, director of client services, said, "It's become part of the office. Now it's part of the firm's style."

The exhibition at Whiteford, Preston & Taylor in Columbia is one of the smallest shows of student art that will take place this year and the only one in a private venue.

The central and east Columbia library branches will celebrate Youth Art Month next month and in March. Another show will be held at the Howard County Center for Arts in the spring, and the 31st annual Student Exhibition will be at The Mall in Columbia in April.

Student art also is often on display at the Board of Education offices.

Mezzanotte said the response of staff members and clients to the art has been "overwhelmingly positive. People have found them to be fascinating. Everyone is surprised at how good the artwork is, much better than they would expect from a student."

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