A young point of view: SAMA’s annual exhibit showcases area students’ artwork

By Mary Haley

For the Mirror

LORETTO – If Jessica Miller had her way, not only would people get to see her students’ finished artwork, but they’d also view them creating the pieces, because, she said, that’s really when the kids shine.

“The viewer doesn’t get to see those ‘light bulb’ moments of eureka when (the students) understand something for the first time,” said Miller, who teaches art at Claysburg-Kimmel Elementary School in Claysburg. “That’s the true art.”

Miller’s students are among a group of 300 young artists from the region whose work is featured in exhibits currently on display at the Southern Alleghenies Museums of Art in Loretto and Ligonier. The students, representing grades kindergarten through 12, are from schools in Blair, Bedford, Cambria and Somerset counties in the Loretto exhibition, said Jessica Campbell, SAMA’s education coordinator.

Their artwork is on display at the museum on the campus of St. Francis University from now through April 12, Campbell said. A special opening reception is scheduled for today at the museum in Loretto.

Campbell said the exhibit is part of a celebration of National Youth Art Month and state Arts-In-Education Month. Schools that are part of the museum’s education outreach program were invited to participate in the exhibit. The outreach program allows museum personnel to go into participating area schools to teach students about art, Campbell said.

“The exhibition is a way to showcase the talented youth in our area as well as an outreach for our education programs,” she said.

Campbell’s predecessor, Sharon Wall, who is now the art teacher at Altoona Area High School, said the idea for having students exhibit their artwork at the SAMA locations started as a way to get young people interested in art and art museums. Wall, who was the first SAMA education coordinator, said museum officials first began the Artists in Residence program that brings noted artists to the area to teach art to students. Museum personnel also started taking artwork from its permanent collection to schools to show students original pieces of art up close.

The idea for the annual student exhibit, which has been held for at least 16 years according to Campbell, grew from those efforts, Wall said. Hopefully, by seeing the artwork and meeting artists in person, students would be encouraged to check out more art themselves, she said.

“It was a way to draw a different audience than what would usually go to the museum,” Wall said.

Several of Wall’s students have artwork hanging in the exhibit, like seniors Destiny Eames and Kirsten Stottenberg, both of Altoona. Their acrylic painting pieces are the result of an assignment from Wall that challenged them to recreate a memory of something that is precious to them, they said.

The two students came up with works that are very different in subject matter. Eames’ work displays a crying eye and a heart, based on her memories of a fellow classmate who passed away last year.

“Honestly, I was a little sad while I was doing it, but it’s OK,” she said. “I like to use art to express my feelings.”

Eames said she has always enjoyed exploring her artistic side and plans a career in either graphic art or fashion design. Like all the students from Altoona High whose work is in the exhibit, she is in Advance Placement Art class.

In contrast, Stottenberg’s artwork is upbeat, a painting that she drew about her boyfriend, another senior at Altoona High. She included stencils in her work and drew such details in her painting as a view of him in his hat. He’s a shy person, so at first he was a little self-conscious when he heard that it would be hanging in an exhibit, but he then said it was OK, she said.

Stottenberg said she plans to be a kindergarten teacher and incorporate art whenever she can in the classroom.

“I have always loved to draw, even when I was a kid,” she said. “I really love using vibrant colors.”

This is the first year Miller has participated in the exhibit and she said her students are very excited about seeing their artwork at the museum. Miller said Claysburg-Kimmel Elementary sent artwork from 13 students in first through sixth grades.

“I loved watching their eyes light up as I told them about their art being a part of the exhibition,” she said. “Seeing something that they painted in a gallery, transformed into a framed and matted masterpiece, really changes the experience.”

One of her students, Maggie Knisely, a sixth grader from Claysburg, created a monochromatic landscape for the exhibit using paint.

“I love using paint because if you make a mistake, you can always fix it,” she said.