Columbia Art Center lives up to its name

The 83 artists in the Columbia Art Center's Faculty/Student Exhibition are displaying 315 works of art, all of which will be described below.

Just kidding.

This annual show fills the center's walls with paintings, photographs, watercolors, prints, drawings and other works on paper; for that matter, seemingly every table, ledge or other flat surface now supports ceramics and jewelry.

The installation has a casual intermingling of artwork by teachers and their students, so the exhibit avoids having an overly didactic masters-and-apprentices quality. Visitors basically are encouraged to wander around and pause whenever something catches their attention.

One thing that comes across in the abundant display of ceramics is the sense of artists exploring the primal nature of this medium. In student Neela Walter's ceramic bowl "Earth," for instance, its earth-toned coloration and modest size emphasize how ceramics literally have earthy associations.

Artists look for decorative possibilities, of course, and so student Carol Schnell's clay bowl "Swirls" decorates an otherwise plain little bowl with black swirls and geometric designs on the inner surface.

Although most of the exhibited ceramics are functional items that you could use on the dinner table, some of the artists tweak conventional designs to the point of making visual jokes. Student Donna Rose's two clay "Tipsy Cups" have tilted stems and ragged-edged rims. You'll feel tipsy just looking at them.

Instructor Cathy Holt's glazed stoneware "Puffer Soap Fish" could be used as a soap dish, but placing a bar of soap inside this fish's wide-open mouth might prompt you to giggle and drop the soap.

Watercolor is a medium that lends itself to an exploration of its fluid possibilities. Instructor Robert Coe's watercolor "Valley Farm" is a straightforward depiction of a barn and silos that are relatively small within the quietly expansive rural landscape, but this artist's use of melting colors gives the picture a slightly dreamy quality that makes it more than just a standard-issue country scene.

Student Stephanie Lyon's watercolor "Memory of Maine" likewise relies upon melting colors for its depiction of an old house backed by trees. The green foliage is sufficiently blurred to bring out the way in which our memories can be both sharp and yet a little blurred around the edges.

Watercolors and other works on paper provide opportunities for technical challenges. Instructor Deborah Maklowski's colored pencil and acrylic "Shadowplay" depicts four tall palm trees that cast shadows against a white stucco building. You may find yourself pausing to consider how something like a shadow can seem both simple and complex.

In her watercolor "Almost Gone," student Lindsay Lukas features a construction worker taking a break from the demolition of a shabby building. The technical challenge here involves how the artist creates a near-monochromatic image and then has the shadow cast by construction equipment playing across the surface of a wall. There's also some humor worked into this picture by the inclusion of a sign reading "Private Property No Trespassing."

Whatever their medium of choice, the artists in this show are striving to create visually harmonious forms and images. Among the photographers, for instance, instructor Dennis Gilbert has a carefully composed photo of the "Key Bridge" in Baltimore's outer harbor. Not only is the bridge itself seen from a distance, but the misty weather makes it seem even further away. Even smaller are several boats in the foreground. What really attracts your attention here is the gull hovering at the top-center of the composition and seemingly sharing the same view as we do.

This exhibit also has occasional reminders of how artists learn from and respond to earlier artists. Instructor Carol Zika's acrylic painting "Holly: Homage to Hopper" depicts a woman wearing blue pants and a red blouse who is sitting on the front porch of a white-painted wood frame house. This composition resembles the way in which Edward Hopper placed solitary models within a quiet landscape. Holly has a bit of a smile on her face, however, which typically you wouldn't find on a blank-faced Hopper model. You can't blame a contemporary artist for happily paying homage to Hopper.

The annual Faculty/Student Exhibition runs through June 2 at the Columbia Art Center, 6100 Foreland Garth in Long Reach Village Center. Call 410-730-0075 or go to

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