When the Howard County Public School System organizes an annual exhibit of student artwork at the Columbia Art Center, it's always fun to see what the kids create. This year's themed exhibit, "Postcards Home: Wish You Were Here," has an especially neat premise.
The students at schools throughout the county were asked to produce postcard-format artwork that consists of three parts: the drawn, painted or otherwise student-generated image that would appear on the front of a postcard; the written message that would appear on the back of a postcard; and a brief explanatory text in which the student artists discuss their motivation and their methods.
The resulting postcards evoke distant trips that in some cases relate to real family vacations, but in many other cases are fantasized trips; among the latter, some destinations exist on an earthly map and others are in outer space.
But there are also several postcard images that definitely stay within the borders of Howard County. Several students have images that refer to last summer's flood in Ellicott City, for instance. Among them is a student at Howard High School, Frankie Byers, whose "Old Ellicott City" depicts a thin line-defined representation of the Fire House museum that's about to be hit by a thickly painted blue-and-white wave. Byers states in the accompanying text: "I wanted the water to feel like it was consuming the town, which is why I chose to layer the acrylic over the thin line work."
Venturing far from Howard County are dozens of county students. They include Nika Guth, a first grader at Bollman Bridge Elementary School, whose "Flying Over the Pyramids in Egypt" literally depicts the young artist flying over those pyramids.
A student artist exploring a mythological destination is Henry Lamp, a fourth grader at Atholton Elementary School, whose "Atlantis, the Lost City" features a Greek-style temple with fish swimming around it. The postcard message reads: "We had only enough oxygen to stay for two days. We had to swim away from sharks every so often, but as you can see I'm still alive!"
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Also exploring underwater mythology is "Mermaid Land," created by Maddie Cadieux, a fourth grader at Elkridge Elementary School. It depicts a pink-haired mermaid and two dolphins.
And an underwater creature somehow ended up in outer space in "Pearl." Its creator, Anna Wang, is a second grader at Hammond Elementary School. Her explanatory text has this to say about the three-dimensional, paper cutout of an octopus that projects outward from a backing depiction of planets: "I met an alien in space. It is a five-legged octopus and its name is Pearl."
Another explorer sending a postcard from outer space is Isard Bernades, a third grader at Triadelphia Elementary School. The cut paper planets include the one giving this artwork its title, "Tattoine." The postcard is addressed to the artist's parents in Ellicott City and its message reads: "Dear Mother and Father. I am on Tattoine. It's awesome, but this might be our last communication. The Death Star is above us! So save yourselves!!!"
Whether the destinations are on planet earth or some other planet, most of the postcards in this exhibit have a whimsical quality to them. They're imaginative flights of fancy.
The postcards that take a more serious approach to the assignment range from the above-mentioned Ellicott City flood-related artwork to others that tackle personal and political issues.
Among the most direct in this regard is by Ashlyn Jakobsson, a ninth grader at River Hill High School, whose "Hell on Earth" features nine news photographs of civilians suffering in Syria. This postcard is addressed: "From Aleppo Syria To Anyone Anywhere Please."
"Postcards Home: Wish You Were Here" runs through Jan. 30 at the Columbia Art Center, 6100 Foreland Garth in Long Reach Village Center in Columbia. The gallery is closed on Jan. 16. There is a reception Jan. 18, from 5 to 6:30 p.m.; reception snow date is Jan. 25. Call 410-730-0075 or go to www.ColumbiaArtCenter.org