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Students' strong memories fuel new Howard County Arts Council exhibit

ArtArtistsMusicNew Year's Day

The object was to depict a vivid memory on colored paper, creating a narrative of depth and symmetry.

Marriotts Ridge High School junior Taylor Hensh conjured up a piece illustrating what happens when New Year's Eve fireworks go wrong.

The piece recalls a vacation at Deep Creek Lake two years ago with her family and a few others, when the fathers decided to set off fireworks — one of which struck Taylor in the arm, putting holes in her North Face jacket but leaving her otherwise unscathed. She now displays that memory in a digital computer image with brightly colored lines and shapes.

She's aptly titled it "Boom."

Hensh is among six Marriotts Ridge students who will have their images included in a new exhibit at the Howard County Arts Council. The show, "Visual Storyteller: The Narrative in Art," features works by hundreds of Howard County public school students from kindergarten through the 12th grade.

Arts council officials say the display is meant to encourage students to be storytellers through their art. The exhibit will run from March 15 to April 26.

Hensh rarely has had her work displayed publicly, and said, "It's going to be cool."

Just to clarify: She said the fireworks episode "wasn't that painful. It was actually an exciting memory. It just took a while to do the fireworks [as art] because I had to use so many small pieces of paper and take my time."

Mark Coates, Howard County schools' coordinator of fine arts, said the system has partnered with the arts council for the past 20 years to display students' pieces. The exhibit coincides with National Youth Art Month.

"Narrative art can be expressed in a series of images, or in just one scene," Coates said. "Children are natural storytellers, and sharing their world is a behavior that can be channeled into a variety of ways. With the [school systems'] Common Core, and the focus on discipline-based literacy, the theme of narrative art seemed like a natural fit."

The works were made specifically for the exhibit, Coates said. To prepare, the art office provides professional development around the theme, and teachers work with professional artists and other art educators for a year preceding the show, he said.

"The range of responses to the theme is amazing," Coates said. "Our art teachers pride themselves with coming up with unique and challenging problems."

Each school's arts class selected three student pieces. At Marriotts Ridge, sophomore Miranda Zeng created art that depicted seeing her newborn twin brothers in the hospital for the first time seven years ago.

"It was a nice moment, seeing my brothers for the first time, after just waiting for a while," Zeng said.

She said setting a memory to paper was "kind of weird for me. I am more of a realistic person, so I felt kind of awkward doing this sort of paper and gluing. It was fun, but weird for me."

Marriotts Ridge sophomore Kristin Woo's work illustrated a photo on her refrigerator — her 100-day-old celebration as a child, with her mother and her grandparents alongside her.

"It was really cool to do, because I got to put it into my own style of artwork instead of just seeing it as a picture," Woo said. "It will be cool for my grandparents to see it. They don't normally see my artwork because they're in Korea. Our family has a Facebook page where we put pictures up, and I will just put this one up."

Marriotts Ridge art teacher Jaye Ayres said she hopes the students' work on the project paid off.

"It is a validation, a success that sometimes artist don't get, like the music department or theater department gets with a show," Ayres said. "The shows are always like icing on the cake."

The exhibit, "Visual Storyteller: The Narrative in Art," runs March 15 to April 26 at the Howard County Arts Council, 8510 High Ridge Road, Ellicott City. An opening reception will be held from 5 p.m. to 7 p.m. March 15. Call 410-313-2787.

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