You don't have to be a student of drawing to like what Mary Lee Ruff can do with a pencil.
Time and time again over the past few years, this talented Charles H. Taylor Arts Center instructor has demonstrated that — when it comes making art — she can not only do it, but do it very well.
So detailed and masterful have her large, increasingly ambitious drawings become that — in cases such as "Final Audition"— the faithfulness with which they render their subjects can sometimes be mistaken for photographs.
Just check out the nuances of light and shadow that Ruff chases with such determination across the faces and costumes of the two young ballerinas depicted in this double portrait.
Then there's the unspoken drama and emotion bottled up behind their silent gazes and body language, which she picks out through close observation and then renders in equally close detail.
No wonder the drawing won First Place in "Artists Who Teach Juried Exhibition 2014," a new Taylor Arts Center show that features 131 works from 85 artists who teach on the Peninsula.
But not long after you step into this big and often compelling collection, it becomes pretty clear that juror Jeffrey Allison of the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts had some elevated talent to choose from.
"We have very good people teaching here," says center manager James Warwick Jones, describing a checklist that ranges from public school teachers to faculty members from Hampton University, Christopher Newport University, Thomas Nelson Community College and the College of William and Mary.
"And they keep getting better every year."
Ruff isn't the only one drawing attention here because of her skillful pencil.
Among this show's most consistent attractions is the wide variety and number of media it pulls in, with the 2014 edition boasting more than a dozen drawings.
Warhill High School art teacher Barbara Stephenson — who won First Place in 2009 — scored an Award of Merit this year with "Protect Thy Blessings," a large and edgy study of a wild-eyed hare done in charcoal and conte crayon.
Crouching over a sack of broken eggs and sweet-gum balls, this puzzling creature looks out at the viewer with a manic gaze, complicating a scene already made ominous by the forest of dark, leafless and closely planted trees that stretches across the background.
But there's no question about the irresistible visual impact of the textures Stephenson conjures up in the animal's fur, the prickly surface of the sweet-gum balls and even the ground in front of her subject, which she animates with hundreds of rhythmical scratches.
Equally engaging collections of prints and 3-dimensional work add to the show's unusual breadth, including an accomplished trio of etchings by William & Mary printmaker Brian Kreydatus and a rough-hewn but eloquently bustling flock of wooden chickens carved by CNU sculptor Greg Henry.
More than a dozen photographs extend this range, too, led by such impressive images as "Light in the Sky," a black-and-white shot of a towering light pole that TNCC photography instructor Tom Moore took at night while motoring down a Mexico City highway.
Captured on the fly while pointing the camera up at a skewed angle, it's clearly embracing the risks of chance and accident in the hopes of capturing something good — in this case a blurry, spontaneous and initially disorienting yet striking picture that verges on the abstract.
Don't miss "Systems.4," a compelling non-figurative painting by former Kecoughtan High School student Ryan Nealon, who returned from Virginia Commonwealth University to teach at Hampton's George P. Phenix School.
Channeling such influences as the great but hard-to-categorize Robert Rauschenberg, Nealon lays down layer after layer of paint in a quick expressive style, fusing the color and gesture of his brush strokes on top of scattered paper scraps, a measured series of symbols stolen from binary code and an orderly hand-drawn grid.
What results from this mash-up of seemingly contrary elements is muscular, lyrical and cerebral at the same time — and it holds the eye so well that it won Third Place.
Erickson can be reached at 757-247-4783. Find more stories on the arts at dailypress.com/entertainment/arts and Facebook.com/dpentertainment.
Turn to Page 15 for Social Scene photos from the exhibit's opening reception.
Want to go?
"Artists Who Teach Juried Exhibition 2014"
Where: Charles H. Taylor Arts Center, 4205 Victoria Blvd., Hampton
When: Through April 27
Info: 757-727-1490. http://www.hamptonarts.net
Online: Go to dailypress.com/entertainment/arts to see a video and photo gallery on the show.Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun