Student art exhibition at OAC opens Tuesday

As has become a beloved custom in the city, the Owatonna Arts Center will be full of art projects created by local students this month, and an opening reception will be held Tuesday evening.

“It’s a special event,” said Bridget Reed, art teacher at Washington Elementary.

Though it’s a time-consuming process for teachers like Reed who select which projects will be displayed from among all their students from the past year, then hang those pieces throughout the arts center, she doesn’t seem to mind.

“It’s totally worth it,” she said.

Students often inquire whether projects have a chance to be in the show.

“They look forward to it,” Reed said. “I saw a great deal of my students last year” at the opening reception, and she sent notices home to families this year to remind them of the endeavor.

In her classes, Reed is always cognizant of unique projects and/or students who “go above and beyond,” she said. She also tries to select a variety of media, from pictures to clay projects, and more than 30 pieces from Washington students will be exhibited this month.

Primary colors have been the focus in kindergarten, while first graders learned about Russia’s Wassily Kandinsky, who is credited with painting one of the first purely abstract works, she said. Those in first grade also participated in their first major clay project — “pinch pots.”

In second grade, students journeyed back to ancient Egypt to put their own spins on the famed mask of King Tutankhamun, she said. They also executed a project using various parts of clay and attaching them.

Students in grade three examined the architecture of ancient Greece, while fourth-graders learned about Pablo Picasso and the concept of totem poles, which originated with Native Americans of the Northwest, she said.

“They really did an amazing job with the clay totem pole projects, and those will be represented in the art show,” she said.

Finally, fifth graders discovered optical illusions in art, as well as pop art, she said. However, “I don’t know if” any of the latter will be “finished in time for the show.”

Like Reed, Nicki Melgaard brought 30-40 pieces to the arts center from her students, and because of the new block scheduling this year at Owatonna Middle School, art instructors and their pupils have new avenues open to them, she said. While some of the classes are “skinny” and only 40 minutes, many are “full blocks” of 82 minutes.

“We’ve been able to increase the scale of our works with the longer class periods,” said Melgaard, who taught elementary art for 16 years before moving over to the middle school a couple years ago. “Some of our stuff this year is pretty big.”

In addition, Melgaard has long desired a unit on acrylic pouring, but “it just wasn’t feasible at the elementary level due to time constraints and logistics,” she said. However, she’s introduced it at OMS, and it’s “been very popular.”

She also collaborated with Tom Meagher, the district’s STEM coordinator, to bring scientific concepts like volume, mass, density, and flow into the lesson, she said. He “was amazing,” leading to a unit “thoroughly-based in our STEM approach.”

After completing acrylic pours, Melgaard and Meagher helped students input their creations into Google Photo and search “for images in nature and science similar to what we poured,” she said. “We were able to make parallels between our abstract art and what they see in the natural world, which was really exciting for our kids.”

The new schedule this year made room for more electives, several of which are in art, ranging from graphic design, videography, straight drawing, and straight painting, to ceramics, photography, web design, and a non-clay 3D design course, she said. Last year, there was one art elective for seventh graders and one for eighth graders.

“More voice and choice leads to positive outcomes,” she said. The photography class has been “probably the most popular,” since “it’s a medium they’ve never experienced before,” and several examples of student photos will be exhibited at the OAC.

In addition to the new schedule this year, Owatonna’s seventh and eighth grade junior high also added sixth graders to become a true middle school, and sixth graders have benefitted from more art time, she said. “All the sixth graders filter through the art department in two six-week segments,” and those classes are every other day for 82 minutes.

They’ve studied African and Central American art this year, elements and principals of design, pop art, and linear perspective, but the clay unit has, as usual, been the most beloved, she said. “Almost all students like working with clay.”

March is National Youth Art Month, and “everyone looks forward to this exhibition,” said Silvan Durben, creative director of the OAC.

The exhibition runs through March 25 — gallery hours are 1-5 p.m. Tuesday-Sunday — and Tuesday’s reception is scheduled from 4:30-7 p.m.

McKinley Elementary’s art teacher, Amanda Gislason, looked for pieces of art that “are an expression of the child,” she said. The OAC exhibition “is a great way to celebrate the art we teach in Owatonna” and display “the incredible talent of our kids here.”

“It’s amazing the children of Owatonna get the opportunity to showcase what they’ve been working on in the arts center,” Reed said. “They are the artists of tomorrow.”

Reach reporter Ryan Anderson at 507-444-2376 or follow him on @randerson_ryan.