Sioux City Art Center Director Todd Behrens said middle school students are working toward a preset answer to a question in mathematics, history and most other classes, but art classes, on the other hand, give these students freedom.
Fifty-six artworks created by students in sixth, seventh and eighth grade are on display at the Art Center through April 12. The pieces were selected by Pauline Sensenig, a professional artist, out of more than 270 submissions from 12 schools throughout the region.
“The kids who get into this show are kids who are working with good teachers — teachers who set up a framework for the kids to work within, but give them a lot of freedom within that framework,” Behrens said as he stood with Debra Marqusee, the Art Center’s education coordinator, in an upstairs gallery surrounded by oil pastel drawings, clay sculptures and painted self-portraits. “You see the quality of the teaching in all of these works. The ones that were selected are the kids that took that and went farther than other kids.”
Marqusee pointed out a large vibrant-colored portrait of Spanish surrealist artist Salvador Dali that was made by 20 North Middle School eighth-graders who painted individual squares. “Salvador Dali Portrait” received a third place in the eighth-grade category.
“The collaborative project is cool,” Marqusee said. “They were actually special education students that got together a few times a week and they were able to work really well together. It’s quite a nice piece.”
Sometimes, Behrens said, the artworks selected for the annual Youth Art Month Exhibition, which is now in its 31st year, are inspired by the likes of Pablo Picasso or Andy Warhol. The Best of Show winner “Landscape,” an oil pastel drawing by North Middle School eighth-grader Neilly Magnusson, has a Grant Wood-feel.
Marqusee said she’s never come across a piece quite like Holy Cross seventh-grader Tess Maly’s copper foil “Inca Mask” or Le Mars Middle School eighth-grader Blake Daale’s felted wool and felt “Dinner for One.” Daale was awarded second place in the eighth-grade category.
“I’ve never had a piece where they take the felted wool and create a piece of art with it,” she said.
Self-portraits, which seem to appear in the exhibit year after year, are “a big deal,” according to Marqusee, who said a lot of teachers teach that. “John,” a tempera paint self-portrait by Le Mars Middle School seventh-grader John Lundula stood out to Behrens.
“I think self-portraits are the things that, if you are willing to dive into it, that’s probably your biggest expressive freedom that you’re going to get,” he said. “He put his face really much more forward than the two over here.”
Marqusee said it means the world to the students to see their pieces framed and hanging on the Art Center’s walls. She said more than 260 people attended the exhibition’s opening on Feb. 16, during which certificates were distributed to the students. The students also received a membership to the Art Center.
“I wish we would get more of the public to come out and see this, because it’s wonderful to have the opportunity for these students to be able to showcase their pieces,” Marqusee said.
Photo by Tim Hynds, Sioux City Journal. A pinch pot animal created by Bilal Yusuf, a sixth-grader at Sioux City North Middle School, is shown at the Sioux City Art Center.