Owatonna students of all ages contribute to Youth Art Month exhibition at OAC

Artists of tomorrow will have the stage of the Owatonna Arts Center gallery in March for national Youth Art Month, with students of all ages from around Owatonna submitting pieces for display.

It’s “so hard” to pick a few projects out of so many, said Bridget Reed, who teaches art at Washington Elementary. Now in her third year, Reed has seen noticeable growth in students, not only in their art, but “maturity and personality,” and “that’s really rewarding.”

With her kindergartners this year, “we pretended we were scientists mixing colors,” both primary and secondary, and “they mixed their own colors,” Reed said. In addition, “they cut out shapes and made pictures with those.”

Pinch pots have been the highlight thus far in first grade, as “they did a really good job on those,” Reed said. “They surpassed my expectations,” especially “how they did on the glazing.”

She also studied the life and art of Georgia O’Keeffe with her first graders so they understood abstraction and the importance of individuality in art.

“I want them to feel like they can draw natural things — they can make a flower look ‘soft’ or ‘bright’ — and make their own decisions about art,” Reed said. “The kids liked the natural forms.”

She also had them blend oil pastels and use watercolor for their backgrounds, she said.

“Those turned out really neat, I thought,” she said.

Students in grade two built on the pinch pots from last year with “critter cups,” which are essentially pinch pots of animals — examples of which include an elephant, a cheetah, and a shark — while the third-grade focus was on Australian cultures, particularly the Aborigines, as well as the country’s animals, she said. Australia’s animals “are especially fascinating.”

As Washington transitions to STEAM school status, all teachers — Reed included — are collaborating and communicating more, since a key tenet of STEAM, STEM, or E-STEM is making connections between subject areas, she said.

“I think it’s been going really well,” said Reed.

For example, when her third graders were learning about light reflection and refraction in science, Reed had them create suncatchers in her room, and as fourth graders studied Native Americans of the East Coast, Reed’s art classes concentrated on crafting baskets, since they were “known for basket weaving,” she said. Her classes also used recycled materials for the baskets.

“We talked about why (the Native Americans) made those baskets, then put our own spin on them,” she said. “It was really hard, but really fun.”

Furthermore, when her fifth graders discussed Aztec and Mayan cultures in their classes, Reed led them in a unit on crafting masks, she said.

“They did just awesome on them,” Reed said.

At McKinley Elementary, which has been a STEAM school for years, art and other classes pair hand-in-hand on numerous projects throughout the year.

For example, in second grade, students utilized their knowledge of forces of motion gleaned from science to do drip paintings, as well as pushing and pulling paint on cardboard, said Amanda Gislason, McKinley’s art instructor. In addition, as first graders conducted their map unit, they made papier-mâché globes in art class, then took those back to their regular classroom for mapping.

Gislason also builds on skills already learned as her students age, she said. For example, while kindergarten is “really about exploring art, getting them to learn all the different materials and how to use them,” in first grade, “we take materials we know how to use” and add elements like line, color, and shape to “create artwork.”

Her first graders worked on prehistoric art, as well as executing a 100-line challenge, she said. In the latter, “we use paint to create 100 kinds of lines.”

In second grade, they studied pop artist Roy Lichtenstein, as well as cloud formations, she said. Students then combined the two to produce cloud paintings in Lichtenstein’s style.

Her third graders crafted “explosion books,” which literally “pop out” from coiled book form, she said. “That was fun,” and “the biggest project we worked on this year.”

Her fourth graders “took painting to the next level” with “tints, shades, and value,” including monochromatic landscapes of lights and darks of one color, she said. They also “did some print-making,” which included “making their own print plates.”

Optical illusions were a focus in fifth grade, she said. “It’s fun to watch the kids go back later in the year and want to dive into it (again).”

They also learned about Frank Stella, the American artist known for his use of geometric patterns and shapes in creating both paintings and sculptures, she said. Students “took a two-dimensional piece of art and turned it into a three-dimensional piece of art.”

Student art month at the Owatonna Arts Center opens Sunday and closes March 31. There will be an opening night celebration Tuesday from 4:30-7 p.m., and the gallery will feature works from elementary, middle school, and high school students.

“I really encourage kids and their families to come out and look at the art,” Reed said. “Kids are really excited” to be in the show.

Because each school can only showcase a few pieces in the arts center, McKinley also conducts an art and engineering fair each May where every student can display a piece of art or an engineering project, she said.

“Everyone can have that feeling of pride,” said Reed.

Gislason’s “ultimate goal” in teaching elementary art is for students to “still have confidence in their” artistic abilities when they leave the school after fifth grade, so “we focus more on process” than the “end product” at McKinley, she said. “I want our kids to be artists,” not worry about “making mistakes.”

In kindergarten, virtually all children have a desire to create art, but, in some cases, that can wane as they age, Gislason said. “Kindergartners are great, because they are innately creative.”

In addition to all the student art, one of February’s featured Owatonna Arts Center artists, Kathy Mommsen, has been continued over for a month in order to coincide with the national clay convention Minneapolis will host at the end of March, said Silvan Durben, the arts center’s creative director. “The goal is that people interested in clay art will come see (Mommsen’s) pieces here,” as well as Kimberlee Joy Roth’s permanent ceramic installation, “What We Have to Lose,” and the work of other ceramicists the arts center has in its collection.

Mommsen’s Emotional Expression Walls aim to capture the raw human energy of dancers, whom she observed in her studio for this project, she explained earlier this year. By sculpting and painting directly on clay while the dancers were in action, rather than executing her art after the fact from drawings or photos, she developed a direct connection to them and their genuine feelings.

Mommsen’s art will be on display through the end of March in the atrium. The Owatonna Arts Center’s regular hours are 1-5 p.m. Tuesday-Sunday.

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