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Regional High School Exhibition at the FWMoA
By Dan Swartz
Fort Wayne Reader
Without the annual artistic outpouring that is the Fort Wayne Museum of Art's "Northeast Indiana and Northwest Ohio Scholastics Art & Writing Awards Exhibition," our city would miss an opportunity to see some of the tremendous talent hiding in our local and regional High Schools, which is many times whisked away to other cities on scholarships and promises of different artistic experiences. This writer would never have been exposed to the amazing draftsmanship of Carly Schmitt if not for the Scholastics award exhibition of a 2006, and probably would not have been infatuated with the art world if it weren't for his participation in the Scholastics award exhibition of 2004. In this way, Scholastics is much more than an award, or an exhibition. It is the very core of the art world, a unique, fragile community, which lasts one month, and contains most of the dreams and ambition of every artistic talent in Northeast Indiana. This is the first chance that many of these young artists have to see their work displayed, and to see their true competition next to them.
The annual Scholastics exhibition contains hundreds of works of art and writing, each piece is chosen by area High School teachers as the best work representative of their students best projects throughout the school year. After this initial stage of judging, it is clear which students are "the art kids" within each high school, and all of these pieces are juried again, by a jury of local artists, college professors, and affiliated art lovers/professionals, chosen by Fort Wayne Museum of Art's K-12 Education director and associate, Max Meyer and Joselyn Elliott.
During this process, the student's work is either taken out of the competition, or given a regional awards. These awards consist of a Gold Key, Silver Key, Honorable Mention, or the American Visions and Voices nominee, which is basically the "best in show" pick. After this, the pieces move on to the national level of competition where Northeast Indiana and Northwest Ohio art students are pitted against the best high school students in the nation. From there the Gold and Silver Key winners are judged out or awarded Gold and Silver medals, and each regional "best in show" is judged against each other and winners are given the American Visions and Voices Medal. Approximately three hundred pieces which move on to the national level are also in an exhibition in New York City. And finally, in addition to all of this promotion, Scholastics also gives out a number of scholarships in the form of various awards based on grade and portfolio strength.
The 2011 Scholastics exhibition is a particularly encouraging grouping of quality art pieces. While all of the work judged into our regional exhibition was interesting, there was a clear group of young artists which stood out from crowd. All Gold Key winners, these students were able to go beyond the medium and skill-sharpening projects of their classroom assignments. Meghan Rose's charcoal and pastel piece "Through the Shards I smile" and Haley Sipe's "A Million Opportunities for Identification" both contain an ineffable Susan Rothenberg presentness. Some pieces, like Cathy O'Malley's "Fear of Isolation", a linocut print, contain a mature restraint, and an emotive quality beyond the age of the artist. O'Malley, being a Sophomore at Canterbury, and living in Auburn, shows an impressive aptitude for expressionistic work.
These students are also testaments to the skill of their teachers. Nicole Croy, Carroll High School's exuberant photographer teacher has assisted her students in producing some of the most technically superior, content laden, conceptually on point work of the exhibition. This year is no different. Peyton Hanley's "No Pause" was an enthralling image of a baroque, ink-blot patterned, rust-red and gold leaf wall paper with a patterned doorway laid in perfectly as to blend the seem of the door, highlighting the frame. Its banality references a number of contemporary artists, like Candida Hofer, and its simple charm allows a rest and a focus. Another of Croy's students, Rachel Heffner, and her large, gallery ready piece "All The Details", is a twelve piece grid of photographs, each depicting a high resolution, vignette of each subject-from the underside of a mushroom cap to a turnip, to a wasp's nest. Again, on point with contemporary photography, Heffner is making work which, though not yet fully refined, could be seen in any number of lower-tier emerging artist galleries in any major metropolitan area.
Clearly, there were two young artists whose work towered, even in the cramped gallery, with pieces stacked on all sides of them. Erin Benedict of Bryan, Ohio and her photograph, "Brain Wash", and Jennifer Dolezal of Peru, Indiana with her watercolor "The Other World", and her other piece "Captain Plath", which won the American Visions Award. These two artists created work in very different styles, media, concept classes, and as the works themselves suggest, with completely different attitudes. Dolezal's work is technically perfect in every way except that if captures the subtle flaws, in the same ways which make people interesting, she gives her images life by making them so beautiful you get pulled in, and with enough peculiarities that you just have to keep searching into them. "The Other World" is one of the finest pieces of illustration Fort Wayne has seen in the recent past, and belies an inimitable skill.
Erin Benedict's work, on the other hand, has the sexy attitude of an editorial seen in any high fashion magazine, while keeping a fine art bend. The model's contortion and Benedict's use of a bare white studio setting contrast each other perfectly, and the focal point - the model's head being dunked into a plain bowl of water, brings about references to the long line of avant-garde performance artists, from Yves Klein to Bruce Nauman, and the more recently famed Marina Abramovic. The frankness and originality of Benedict's piece carry it far beyond the other photography present in the 2011 Scholastics Exhibition. Its allure carries with the viewer, and its meaning, never truly revealed but clearly presented in the form of a visual pun seals the deal. "Brain Wash" mixes fashionable American Apparel youth, avant garde performance documentation, and the ecstasy of a a Bernini sculpture all into one little image. And it does it in exactly the right way.
The Fort Wayne Museum's annual Scholastics Exhibition is an example of their K-12 Education staffs dedication to this program, the promotion of local talent, and general excellence. Our region has gained incredible exposure due to FWMoA's hard work, and it has allowed our young artists to amplify their artistic successes.
2011 Northeast Indiana/Northwest Ohio Scholastic Art and Writing Awards Exhibition
February 12-April 10
Fort Wayne Museum of Art
*Made possible by the generous funding of The News-Sentinel, The Fort Wayne Art League, Macy's Department Store, and Northeast Indiana Public Radio.