If you have wandered into the Fine Arts Center within the last month, you’ve likely noticed a large mural with an intricate, mandala-like pattern. The color in the middle is a bright yellow, similar to the sun. As it expands, the bright yellow fades to a blood-orange, magenta then a deep purple as it reaches the edges, mimicking a sunset. It is pleasing to the eye, almost professional.
Would you believe a high school student created it?
The Castleton University High School Art Engagement Exhibit, currently taking place in the Fine Arts Center, consists of art from 23 students from eight different Vermont high schools. The exhibit has already been on display for nearly a month and will continue through Dec. 21.
The participating schools include Green Mountain Union High School, Stafford Technical Center, Bellows Falls Union High School, Fair Haven Union High School, Mill River Union High School, Poultney High School, Rutland High School, and Proctor High School.
“It’s a way to showcase the different high school talent in the area. It’s an amazing thing to be able to show your work in high school and beyond,” said Oliver Schemm, chair of Castleton University’s art department.
But this exhibit isn’t just for benefit of the students involved. Schemm insists it is about much more.
“It’s multifaceted when it comes to the reasons, certainly to showcase their art just as a community thing, a community outreach,” Schemm said. ”The main thing is becoming acquainted with, and having a working relationship with the art teachers in the area; also meeting and creating a relationship with potential students. As time goes on what starts happening is we’re having art teachers that have gone to Castleton through the art education program, they’ve been taught here, so they teach students and in them talking, reassuring them and suggesting they come here, it creates this positive feedback loop. I’ve watched that happen already.”
This is the third straight year Castleton has featured this exhibit. Each year it has grown. When it debuted two years ago, it featured art from just seven students.
This year, 23 students have contributed.
And plenty of them say they are humbled just to be included.
“It means a lot,” said Clen Fowler of Mill River Union High School. “I didn’t quite think I’d get this far if I’m being honest. I’d hoped for it, but being featured in a college exhibit didn’t seem possible.”
“It’s exciting really,” said Ozzie-Mae Jewett of Green Mountain Union High School. “There is a sense of sophistication to a college environment that blends beautifully with the freedom that art entails and being a part of that is an honor. “
For several students, it was their first time having art featured in an exhibit, let alone at a university. Each of them seemed to take something rewarding away from the experience.
“Being featured in this exhibit was kind of like getting an excuse to show my art to people,” said Kelsey Sanford-Wilson of Mill River Union High School. “I don’t find myself bad at art, but I don’t want people to feel like I’m shoving my art in their face.”
Some students had more experience being featured than others, but they all realized it was an exciting opportunity.
“Other than my school art shows, this is my first “exhibit,” but I have done several school posters, musical marquees and I'm working on a school mural. Typically I jump at any opportunity to showcase my work and would love to find more exhibits and gallery’s to be in,” Jewett said.
Clearly being featured has resonated well with the exhibits participants, but it is about much more than simply being featured, and it isn't just the students involved who are benefitting from the exhibit.
The Castleton art department offers a workshop day for these students. They invite not only the students included in the show, but those in the different art classes of the participating high schools as well. They bring them to Castleton where they have a day of workshops, talk about their artwork and have portfolio reviews. They are shown the art department and get hands-on experience in a college art environment.
“The workshop is really about finding that essential creativity that’s within everyone,” Schemm said.
Sanford-Wilson, however, seemed to have no shortage of the essential creativity Schemm spoke of.
“I have been practicing art since I was a child and I mainly got interested in art because of my grandmother and my dad. I was obsessed with horses and my dad being AMAZING painted little horse drawings for my sister and I,” she said. “It wasn’t the best art in his eyes, but I don’t think he truly realizes how much those small drawings really affected how my sister and I perceived art. That helped me believe that it isn’t that hard, and I could do it as well as him.”
Yet, even if some of these talented high school students needed no help finding their essential creativity, the workshop offered multiple advantages.
“At the very least they get to experience a day of art but also understand that it’s possible to have a career in the arts,” Schemm said.
If this was the goal, consider it a mission accomplished. This understanding seems to have been met by the students involved, as several of them have plans to pursue a career in art.
“I will continue to produce art for as long as I can because it’s amazingly fun and it allows me to inspire others,” said Montana Stomski of Poultney High School.
“I definitely plan on continuing art in my future. For myself, but also as a career, art therapy being a large interest. Being able to use art, as a way to help people is an ultimate goal and a magical thing,” Jewett said.