Exhibit offers a trip through many worlds

Display: Howard County students and two professionals use visual arts and text to reflect on travel and writing.

March 13, 2003|By Sandy Alexander | Sandy Alexander,SUN STAFF

A new exhibit at Howard County Center for the Arts in Ellicott City draws young artists from throughout the county and inspiration from around the world, showcasing student artwork about correspondence and travel.

Art teachers used the theme as a starting point with at least one class in every Howard County public school and then chose several pieces for display. The result is a diverse exhibit running through April 26 in the center's Gallery Two.

The student works are complemented by pieces by two professional artists: mixed-media projects by Janet Maher and paintings by Molly Springfield.

For many years, a partnership between the Howard County Arts Council and the school system has resulted in an exhibit with a different theme to highlight Youth Art Month in March.

"Every year, it is a little bit different," said Amy Poff, deputy director of the council. This time, with students and professional artists working with the same broad subjects, "it gives you a nice juxtaposition," she said.

An opening reception for Maher and Springfield will be held from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. tomorrow. A reception for the student exhibit will be held from 5 p.m. to 7 p.m. March 20.

Student Artists' Responses to Correspondence and Travel includes work from students in elementary school through 12th grade. The students combined visual arts and writing to make postcards, illustrated letters, stamps, maps, brochures, globes, collages, prints, journals, books, boxes and many other projects. They explored lands and lives around the globe.

"We work on this for a year," said Linda Newton, resource teacher of the visual arts with the Howard school system. "It is nice to see the culmination of what teachers have been doing."

Newton and others coordinate in-service days with guest artists and give teachers suggestions and materials to get them started.

"Every year, it is just amazing. Nobody comes up with the same idea," Newton said.

Margie Eisenstein and Jamie Travers, art teachers at Hollifield Station Elementary School, thought their third-graders would enjoy travel art because they learn about regions of the world in other classes.

The schoolchildren read Toot and Puddle by Holly Hobbie, a tale about a globetrotting pig and his homebody friend. Then they researched a place they would like to visit.

They made watercolor paintings of landmarks in their ideal destinations, such as the Eiffel Tower or the Taj Mahal. They wrote postcards as if they were visiting the place. Then they designed postage stamps using colored pencils.

"It's nice to have the theme each year to focus on," Eisenstein said. "It allows you to come up with something new."

Photography students at River Hill High School incorporated the idea of travel into a lesson about composition. With guidance from a guest artist from New York, the students used disposable cameras to photograph a red rubber ball in various locations, such as in a field, at a construction site and on a merry-go-round.

Another group of River Hill students exchanged postcards with students in Rochester, N.Y. Each was designed to convey a visual message about the artist.

"It's something they're not only invested in for a basic grade, but also personally invested in," said River Hill art teacher Gino Molfino.

That kind of enthusiasm is encouraged among teachers, as well.

"It forces teachers to really try new things," said Mark Coates, the school system's instructional facilitator for the visual arts. They have to find new solutions to given problems, he said, "which is exactly what we ask our kids to do."

Maher, who lives in the Baltimore neighborhood of Waverly and teaches studio art at Loyola College, has been exploring ways to combine communication and art for many years. She said she draws on a tradition of using the mail for cooperative art projects, a tactic that was particularly strong in the 1960s and 1970s.

Maher is also interested in an art form called artist books and in printmakers' folio exchanges.

One piece, Conversation, is a display of 52 works sent to Maher by other artists. She required only that each artwork be made of two 8-by-5-inch components that combine visual and written elements.

"The work itself is conversing between visual and text," Maher said. "I'm arranging all of the pieces in such a way I hope there will be a larger conversation going on in the space."

Springfield, who earned her post-baccalaureate certificate in fine arts at Maryland Institute College of Art and is working toward a master's degree at the University of California at Berkeley, is interested in cataloging the items people collect.

In the Howard show, she uses a detailed, realistic painting style to portray correspondence.

"Handwritten correspondence, increasingly replaced by e-mail, evokes a special kind of nostalgia," Springfield said in her artist's statement. "I am fascinated by the sheer materiality of these objects - the postmarks on envelopes, the contours of paper, the handwriting, the sense of thoughts made real."

Organizers and participants hope the range of approaches will make for an engaging show.

"It is always nice when we go to see the show, to see how many variations on one theme you can get," Eisenstein said.

"You get to see how different levels ... are dealing with this idea of travel and correspondence," Molfino said. "Some elementary kids can really deal with ideas and concepts. It is always amazing what they produce as art makers."

The Howard County Center for the Arts is at 8510 High Ridge Road, Ellicott City. Gallery hours are 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. Monday through Friday and 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturdays. Information: 410-313-2787.

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