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Howard County students explore identity in art gallery show

For Howard County Times

Students making art in their Howard County Public School System classrooms are getting a chance to exhibit in a professional art gallery at the Howard County Arts Council in Ellicott City.

Organized with Youth Art Month in mind, the “Defining Ourselves: I Am More Than What You See” exhibit for public school students in grades K-12 has a different general theme each year. This year’s topic of “identity” prompted art teachers across the county to give assignments that encouraged students to express their own identities in creative ways.

Among the exhibiting students from Dayton Oaks Elementary School, third-grader Nicolae Selaru used crayon, sharpie and tempera to mark up a wall-hanging figurative paper cutout titled “This Is Me!!” Personalizing the generic cut-out figure are a number of written statements, including “I like art,” “I love mathematics” and “I am Romanian.”

Artists favoring realistic portraiture include Katie Marshall, an 11th-grader at Hammond High School. Her graphite drawing “Cathartic Scream” is true to its title. Responding to the same classroom assignment and hanging next to Marshall’s drawing is Hammond High School 12th-grader Hana Bramble’s graphite drawing “Analysis Paralysis.” Bramble presents a face whose intense stare is worth analyzing.

Acknowledging that an individual personality is anything but monolithic is Mount Hebron High School ninth-grader Trisha Anand, whose sharpie and watercolor “I Am More Than What You See" presents 12 different depictions of her face. What they have in common is the directness of the artist’s gaze. Also worth noting is how a sharpie facilitates the spontaneous mark making used to depict these dozen faces.

If some artists present one face to the world and others present multiple faces, Natalie Verna in effect presents no face to the world. That's because this 12th-grader at Reservoir Hill High School has a black-and-white photograph titled “What’s Your Story” in which the side profile view of a woman’s face is so deeply placed in shadow that you can’t make out any facial details. This photo suggests that it’s not always easy to see people and, by extension, understand who they are.

For viewers confronted with so many artworks dealing with identity, a constant source of interest is to make note of how students at these schools had assignments calling on them to address the topic through various mediums.

Mariyah Osei-Asamoah, a fifth-grader at Northfield Elementary School, has a mixed-media piece titled “African-American Queen” in which a mask supports a flag, beads and other items.

Brooke Ridgely, a fourth-grader at Waverly Elementary School, does not have any facial imagery at all in “Brooke’s World.” That’s because she has made child-sized ceramic hands on which she used colored pencil to draw such things as an Oreo cookie, cupcake and pizza. This food-related identity seems like a balanced diet to us!

Among the students making “mini-me” dolls at Oakland Mills Middle School is seventh-grader Katerin Ventura-Amaya, whose “mini-me — Dressed and Ready” is wearing a smartly conceived black outfit and, for that matter, also wearing a welcoming smile.

This abundance of artwork in the arts center’s Gallery I is complemented by an exhibit in Gallery II, “Teaching and Making with Big Ideas in Mind.” It showcases the work of Howard County Public School System art teachers who took part in a professional development course.

Just as the exhibited artwork in Gallery I has explanatory text panels explaining how the overall art assignment was handled in each school, the exhibit in Gallery II has extensive text panels in which individual art teachers explain the work they have on display.

Matthew Hanson, who teaches at Howard High School, is exhibiting a series of color photographs titled “Food That Changed My Life.” A personal story is attached to “Joe’s Baked Rigatoni, Marriottsville, Maryland,” for instance. Besides the interesting autobiographical observations accompanying it, this photo is especially notable for how Hanson has arranged rigatoni, garlic, onions, tomatoes and other ingredients on the table. The artist likens the composition to still lifes from the Baroque era.

Lori Mellendick, who teaches at Ducketts Lane Elementary School, has four landscape paintings made with pastel, paint, graphite and ink. These are abstracted compositions in which horizontal bands of color are loosely applied. As the artist observes in an accompanying statement, she likes to make “spontaneous choices and quick decisions.”

“Defining Ourselves: I Am More Than What You See,” and “Teaching and Making with Big Ideas in Mind” run through April 19 at the Howard County Arts Council, 8510 High Ridge Road in Ellicott City. Call 410-313-2787 or go to hocoarts.org.

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