Gabrielle Sullo painting: Photos by Susan Safford
Gabrielle Sullo's painting is part of the Featherstone art show. Photos by Susan Safford

Students create fresh new art

By Molly Hitchings - March 16, 2006

Martha's Vineyard Regional High School students are showing their self-portraits and sculptures this week at Featherstone Center for the Arts in Oak Bluffs. Last Saturday, high school art teachers Janice Frame and Scott Campbell made the final adjustments to the display in preparation for an afternoon reception.

"This show is about celebrating the good things that kids do," said Featherstone director Francine Kelly.

The show is one of four this year put together by high school students. The young artists took part in every aspect of the show, from compiling a mailing list to hanging paintings.

Art teacher Janice Frame at the opening reception at Featherstone in Oak Bluffs: Photo by Ralph Stewart
Art teacher Janice Frame at last weekend's opening reception at Featherstone in Oak Bluffs, where her student's work is on display.

"Francine wants everyone on the Island to come and do something at Featherstone," said Scott Campbell. "Her thing is, 'You want to do what? Sure!'"

Mr. Campbell could be describing himself. He's already looking forward to a public kiln firing and auction at Featherstone in June, part of the proceeds of which will go to Hurricane Katrina aid.

In the age of lawsuits, it's an act of faith to bring so many high school kids around a gigantic roaring fire.

"It's great," said Mr. Campbell. "I bring 25 to 30 kids up here, we burn four tons of wood and hang out and eat loads of food. The fire chief comes to check on us. I say, just go ahead and try things. Don't worry about what could go wrong."

That freedom makes for fertile ground in which to nurture young artists. "We don't try to make artists," Mr. Campbell said. "We give them the tools and the vocabulary. We give them the background, so they can walk into any gallery or museum and not sound like idiots."

In the art room at the high school, students pay a lab fee and receive a limited supply of materials, just like any artist with limited funds. "They learn to keep their brushes clean," said Mr. Campbell. "It's really a process."

Part of the process is learning how to cope with accidents. Andrew Valenti's coil-built structure of a dreamlike creature blew up in the kiln, for example, and he had to do it all over again.

The creature was worth doing over. It's a hideous little beast, something between a toad, a dog, and a nightmare, with a gaping mouth that shows off its textured tongue and sharp teeth. If you bend down and look, you can see its crimson tonsils.

Casey Decker's ceramic guitar was among the pieces jury-selected for the Boston Globe student art show. Katherine Clark, Rebecca Dunham, and Connor Boland also displayed their work in the city. Connor Boland's jade-green vase won't hold water, but it holds the viewer's attention.

Other eye-catching works included Alice Hopkins's ample Buddha in repose and Cody Doolin's giant Coke bottle.

The self-portraits began with an assignment from Janice Frame, who snapped photographs of the students and set them to work. Acrylic paint dries too quickly for this kind of work, so she asked students to use oil in order to perfect their blending technique. Every color had to be mixed, a laborious process when it came time to replicate their own skin tone.

Janice Frame walked around the room, recalling the hours of work that went into each self-portrait. "I really wanted them to capture some of their personality and spirit," she said. "They got into it, and they wanted to be successful. It was a good six weeks."

The paintings are wonderful viewed as a collection; every artist has a different strength. Ms. Frame points to Molly Bangs's work and says, "It's so soft. It's just beautiful. And that's really the way she is."

She goes down the line. Bridget Conlon's coloration is masterful; Vaughn Russillo's work reveals a mischievous personality.

"My job is to get them to see the difference between what they see and how they think things look," Ms. Frame said.

Student work is on display at Featherstone through this weekend.