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This article by Pat Summers was published in U.S. 1 Newspaper on September 8, 1999. All rights reserved.

Back to School & Art

It used to be that back to school meant new plaid jumpers

and bookbags, freshly-sharpened pencils and soap erasers. Today it’s

more like designer clothes and backpacks, along with new safety rules

and protective devices — surveillance cameras, metal detectors,

and their ominous ilk. Happily, though, overarching the clothes, the

supplies, and the security measures, there’s also the perennial anticipation

of the new — friends, teachers, maybe even a new building, as

well as new subjects, clubs, teams: enriching experiences and an ever-widening

world.

At some independent elementary and secondary schools in the area,

The return to the classroom also means a return to the school art

gallery, where — whether students know it or not — they can

expect a wide variety of high quality, professional art to be on view

throughout the year. And that art, which can range from Rembrandt’s

etchings to Cindy Sherman’s movie stills, is likely to be a significant

part of the school curriculum, so they will do much more with it than

merely walk past it or idly look at it.

And the "gallery" might extend beyond building walls —

as it does at Princeton’s Chapin School, where eight large-scale sculptures

of granite, wood, or bronze are installed around the campus. On loan

for the academic year from Lambertville sculptor Harry Gordon, the

pieces will be the subject of a public reception and sculpture walk

on Sunday afternoon, September 12. Already, though, some of the works

are visible from the road that runs in front of the school, and the

bronze "Popper" has already become a favorite of students,

who climb and nestle in its curvy amplitude.

Inside the school, Susan A. Cook curates six to eight exhibitions

a year in gallery space that was created several years ago by the

addition of a new wing. Cook, a school parent and freelance photographer,

was also the visionary behind the gallery. Believing that contacts

with professional artists help children tap into their own creativity,

she set out, she explains, to create "a comfort zone where kids

could learn that artists and art are approachable." Cook’s contract

with every artist who shows at Chapin calls for gallery talks or demonstrations

of some kind for all 300 or some number of its pre-kindergarten through

eighth-grade students.

This year’s exhibition schedule starts with wood engravings by Michelle

M. Post. Then, picking up where Lambertville’s lamented Rivergate

Books left off with its closing this summer, Chapin will showcase

the work of about a half-dozen children’s book illustrators between

October 13 and November 12, with a reception and book-signing on opening

day. A cooperative arrangement with Barnes & Noble is one further

element prompting Cook to "hope this may grow into a traditional

community affair." Others artists booked this year are Rhoda Isaacs

(mixed media), Ken McIndoe (paintings), and John King (animal photography).

Each year all Chapin students study one "curriculum

country" — Greece last year, and Russia coming up for 1999-2000.

Cook assures that a gallery exhibition enriches the experience, with

art from or about the country being explored. Not long after next

January’s "Russia Day," Earth Day will, as usual, prompt a

significant celebration, which is also reflected in Chapin’s gallery.

Last year, Jody Miller-Olcott exhibited her mixed-media portraits

of extinct birds, talking with student groups about such concepts

as habitat, endangered species, and even iconic imagery. For Earth

Day 2000, John King, a faculty member from neighboring Lawrenceville

School, will share his animal photography from a photo safari in Kenya.

Although there is no art history as such in the Chapin curriculum,

students are exposed to different mediums — pottery to watercolor

to collage — in a spacious new art studio there, and they can

take after-school electives, such as photography. For now, at Chapin

and the other schools mentioned here, student works are displayed,

of course — not, as a rule, in the art gallery, but on building

walls and in other designated spaces. And visitors with no connection

to the schools except perhaps an interest in the art on view there,

are welcome, generally by appointment.

In an embarrassment of riches, Lawrenceville School’s Gruss Center

of Visual Arts boasts not just one, but two galleries, the art-heart

of a handsomely enlarged and renovated building — formerly the

library — that now also houses art classrooms and studios and

computer facilities. Jamie Greenfield, a painter who teaches studio

courses and directs the Hutchins Gallery, also chairs the school’s

fine arts department. Art history teacher Penny Foss directs the rotunda

gallery, which houses loaned shows and exhibitions from the school’s

permanent collection, for which she also serves as registrar.

Recent programmatic tie-ins to the art on view have included student

writing in response to a show of photography, and "copying the

masters" — drawing from Rembrandt. Student "curatorial

assistants" work with Foss, and because the building is central

and open many hours a day, anyone on campus can easily drop in to

use the computers or watch the art students, besides visiting the

galleries. The building’s self-contained nature allowed Greenfield

to involve her students with an artist who was setting up his installation

in a stairwell last spring.

Opening this month in the rotunda gallery, "Objects of Ritual"

is a timely model of how the visual arts mesh with Lawrenceville’s

curriculum. Entirely borrowed from private collectors — Foss enthuses

over the help she received from the staff of the Art Museum at Princeton

University — the multi-cultural masks, vessels, musical instruments,

and figurines will tie in with an open elective course in philosophy

and religion, "Myth and Ritual," as well as an introductory

unit of the same name in a course for ninth graders. The faculty members

responsible for these courses will make extensive use of the gallery

exhibition, Foss says, and related activities will include a demonstration

of the musical instruments.

Greenfield anticipates the Hutchins Gallery’s faculty exhibition,

featuring works by five teachers, that opens this Wednesday, September

8. "It’s important for students to see what their teachers are

doing," she says, citing also the school’s "Creativity Through

the Arts" course, another interdisciplinary offering, this one

mixing tenth graders with theater, music, and visual arts.

Lawrenceville School’s collection, now numbering about 200 art works

(from Romare Bearden to Joseph Stella and including John Safer’s contemporary

sculpture), began in the late 19th century with gifts of Audubon books.

Establishment of the Center for Visual Arts allowed the collection

to be centrally housed in climate-controlled comfort. And it is now

more accessible, Foss says. In her advanced placement art history

course, students study ancient objects from the school’s collection,

in effect living with them and seeing them from all angles — a

far cry from merely seeing such works on a slide or in a book —

honing their observation and writing skills in the process.

Student writing, both poetry and prose, is also a frequent

response to art gallery work at Stuart Country Day School of the Sacred

Heart. Last year an animal theme connected the exhibitions — from

an invited mixed media show and installation art, through giant, semi-abstract

acrylic paintings to winsome images of domestic scenes all populated

by animals. Stuart’s K through grade 12 students found it easy to

interact with all this work since the gallery area serves as their

"virtual living room," complete with couches, carpeting, and

flower arrangements. "It opens minds to what art can be and shows

art is valued in this community," says Madelaine Shellaby, curator,

art teacher, and artist, of Stuart’s Considine Gallery, an attractive

glazed green-brick place.

"On the eve of the millennium, we’ll be doing the newest art of

our time," says Shellaby. Her schedule for this year allocates

much of October for performance art by Deirdre McGrail and Tim Trelease,

both from the art faculty of the Peddie School, Hightstown. (Peddie,

by the way, is home to reproductions from the collection of alumnus

Walter Annenberg, the school’s most generous benefactor, and to Mariboe

Gallery, where yet another alumnus recently shared his collection

of Cindy Sherman stills.) When the two teachers perform, Stuart photography

students will do filming and mounting of photos; with the props the

performers will leave behind, students will then try performance art

for themselves.

Its immediate carry-over is just one effect of this art form. Peddie’s

Tim Trelease — who will do performance art in the Philadelphia

Fringe Festival later this month — calls it "a visual poem,"

explaining that "in throwing out clues and visual cues in a non-linear

way, it can make more demands on viewers than traditional theater."

It provokes imagination and prompts questions. Adding yet another

dimension, performance art can also be interactive — it can occur

among its audience members and involve them in its process, leading

to a collaborative and more valuable end-product. Both Trelease, who

paints in oils and makes constructions with found objects, and McGrail,

a Stuart alumna who makes mixed-media collages, use their visual arts

to accompany their performance art.

Later in Stuart’s school year, the gallery will host the Princeton

Artists Alliance, a group of area artists who will make new work on

a single theme in a wide variety of mediums, for "Regeneration:

Renewal and Reformation in the Context of the Millennium." Continuing

her practice of showing professional artists in the Considine Gallery,

Shellaby plans a spring show of works by independent-school art faculty

from this area. It’s a good bet that Stuart students will be involved

with the art in as many ways as there are mediums on view, or as Shellaby

puts it, "There are many potentials for using this art that are

untapped but not unthought of."

School art galleries that show professional work: a good thing for

everyone involved. Students can gain comfort, familiarity, and critical

skills, while their art teachers gain stimulation and experience.

School communities and outside visitors gain a bit of visual arts

education. And exhibiting artists find yet another venue — by

definition, a very good thing.

— Pat Summers

Lawrenceville School, Gruss Center of Visual Arts, Lawrenceville,

609-620-6026. First day for the annual faculty show featuring Brian

Daniell, Jamie Greenfield, Allen Fitzpatrick, Andy Franz, and Leonid

Siveriver. Opening reception is Thursday, September 23, 7 p.m. Show

continues to October 6. Wednesday, September 8.

Chapin School, 4101 Princeton Pike, 609-924-7206. First

day for an exhibition of wood engravings by Michelle M. Post. Opening

reception is Wednesday, September 22, at 5 p.m., for the show that

runs to October 8. Also on campus, sculpture by Harry H. Gordon. Open

by appointment during school hours. Wednesday, September 8.

Chapin School, Harry H. Gordon leads a sculpture walk

of his wood, stone, and bronze sculptures sited around the Chapin

campus for the 1999-2000 school year. (Raindate is September 26.)

Free. Sunday, September 12, 3:30 p.m.


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