Lambton student art show takes on new dimension

Laneigh Shirley, Northern Collegiate, “Summer Rebirth,” oil on canvas

Cathy Dobson  

From live music and theatre, to art shows and exhibitions, COVID-19 has derailed so many community arts events.

But one local tradition is still going forward, thanks to some volunteer ingenuity at Gallery in the Grove.

The Lambton County Student Art Show has been held every year since the 1960s.  It’s had such a long run no one really knows for sure when it began.

Artistically inclined high school students really look forward to it, a venue to display their best work. And it’s a juried show, so it looks good on a resume.

Local art teachers, who generally curate the Student Art Show, had assumed it was cancelled this year.

Chase Nickels, Northern Collegiate, “Garden Art,” sculpture/photography.

“We’d thrown up our hands and didn’t think it would be possible,” said Ian McLean who teaches at Northern Collegiate.

That’s when representatives from the Gallery in the Grove reached out about hosting an online show. They set up an online submission process and worked with teachers to spread the word among students isolating at home.

The response was strong among students at Alexander Mackenzie, Great Lakes, Northern, St. Francis Xavier and St. Patrick’s.

“Students want creative outlets,” said McLean, the show’s convenor.  “They want an audience and they want to express their views of the world. I think this show makes them feel less isolated.”

Teachers put no limits on submissions, mediums on subjects. The result is a show of nearly 60 paintings, drawings, sculptures and photos, which have an emphasis on people.

“We received a lot of portraits, and I think that speaks to the times we’re in,” said MacLean.  “We’re all thinking about one another.”

Several feature facemasks, another sign of the times. Though some pieces were done prior to the pandemic, most were created by teens at home with materials at hand.

Chole Cyr, St-François-Xavier, “Foret Enchantee,” acrylic on canvas.

“I think it’s been very refreshing for them to learn you can be creative anywhere and in any situation,” said McLean. “They’ve used found objects and learned you don’t have to spend money to create.”

Some watercolours, for instance, were painted using water-mixed spices from the cupboard, like cinnamon and paprika.

The usual opening night show with prizes and in-person public feedback is not possible, but the online version does have a guest book for viewers to offer comments. Those are valuable to the students, said McLean. “It can be a real boost for them.”

During the pandemic, high school art teachers are continuing to teach, assigning projects and instructing on websites like Google Classroom.

McLean, who has about 75 students, is finding the virtual classroom a busy place. Extra time is needed to communicate and engage students, he said.

And, even though the Student Art Show is extracurricular, teachers and students went out of their way to produce a high-calibre exhibition.

“Through these times, a lot of us are noticing throughout the world the value of art and its meaning in our lives,” McLean said. “There is real power to it.”

IF YOU GO, ONLINE:

WHAT: Annual Lambton County Student Art Show

WHERE: Online, at Gallery in the Grove (www.galleryinthegrove.com)

WHEN: Now until June 15.

Lexi Wilson, St. Patrick’s, “It’s Too Late,” coloured conte.