Student art show in Portage is about ‘attitude’ as much as ability

February 28, 2019

Rusch Elementary fourth-grader Charlotte Higgins will not display her drawing of a unicorn that has eight legs and three horns in the K-8 Art Show at Portage Center for the Arts.

She’ll display a watercolor painting that earned her the “Principal Award” that’s given to one art student at every Portage elementary school. Unlike the unicorn she drew at home, her watercolor piece is fashioned after a famous painting by Claude Monet. It took her two days to complete — she used salt to add texture to the water below the bridge, and nothing about this piece is silly, she explained in art class Tuesday.

The unicorn helped her explain why art is her favorite subject in school.

“Nobody gets to tell you what to do — you can make goofy stuff if you want to,” said Higgins, whose bridge is among the more than 500 pieces of art to be displayed at PCA during March. “I can just be creative.”

The opening reception for the art show is from 4 to 6 p.m. in Drury Gallery and gives Portage Community School District art teachers like Jen Martens and Charlotte Doro the opportunity to see parents, family members and the community at large share in the same youthful enthusiasm as Higgins, they said. The show typically attracts more visitors than any other exhibit held at PCA in a given year, Kathleen Jahn, PCA’s visual arts committee chairwoman, said in January.

“The opportunity for kids of this age to display their art is such a positive experience,” said Martens, who teaches art at the schools of Rusch, Lewiston and Endeavor. “They feel empowered whenever they create something and share it with others.”

“I love that it’s open to the community,” said Doro of Bartels Middle School. “I love that anybody can come in and see what these students have accomplished. The quality is just so diverse, and for me, personally, it’s something I work toward all year long: This opportunity to showcase their talent and dedication.”

Due to space limitations, not every student from grades K-8 gets their worked displayed at PCA, Doro and Martens said. But schools hold their own art shows, regularly, and so every student in the district gets to showcase their work at some point.

Factored into the art selection process for the PCA show is the students’ attitude and commitment as much as the quality of their pieces, explained Doro, who picked the artwork of about 80 Bartels students for the PCA show.

“It’s not always natural ability,” she said, “and I know the other art teachers feel the same way. We look at whether or not they took risks. Did they really push themselves? Were they really engrossed in their work?”

Rusch Elementary fourth-grader Natalie Jordan is displaying “Sunflowers like Van Gogh” in the student art show — her piece focused on the color yellow because it was Vincent Van Gogh’s favorite color, Martens said.

As Jordan painted a clay parrot in Martens’ classroom on Tuesday, she said the “process” of creating a piece is the main reason art is her favorite subject in school.

“I just like trying to make something into a really good piece,” Jordan said, paintbrush in hand. “This took me a long while,” she said of the clay parrot, “especially the body of the bird because it was really hard to shape it and keep it together.

“But I also just like drawing faces,” Jordan said. “And my family.”

The K-8 art show precedes the high school art exhibit that’s held at PCA in April.

For more information about what’s on display at Drury Gallery, visit portagecenterforthearts.com.