ANeSU annual Fine Art Fair showcases student work, art programs

BRISTOL — Last week, the Mount Abraham Union High School gymnasium was transformed. The bleachers were pushed back and colorful displays of mounted paintings and drawings, shiny metalwork and intricate sculptures filled the space.
It was the annual Addison Northeast Supervisory Union Fine Arts Festival and for many ANeSU families a pilgrimage to the high school gym has been a yearly tradition since their children were in elementary school. Artwork from every student in area elementary schools was on display, as well as selected works from middle- and high-school students.
“We’ve been doing this for many years, and it’s really a huge fine arts promotion for the district,” said Elise Cleary, art teacher at the middle school and high school. “It’s really fun to, in one place, see that progression of what they are taught in first grade all the way through.”
Bristol Elementary School art teacher Deb Mager Rickner said that it takes most students a second to adjust to the bewilderingly dazzling array of colorful works on display — the gym is filled with thousands of student pieces, grouped by school and then unit, and the teachers get creative with curating engaging displays.
“The kids love it,” Mager Rickner said. “Of course, they have to find their own artwork! It’s pretty much like a treasure hunt, and in the process they see a lot of other stuff.”
Aside from individual works, the arts festival is a showcase of the outstanding art programs that ANeSU students experience at every stage of their education.
At Robinson Elementary School, art teacher Vera Ryersbach works with teachers to create art assignments that supplement various academic areas of study, while exposing students to various art media and techniques. This year, for example, the Robinson section displayed a cloth mural students had created of a feast scene from Shakespeare’s “Macbeth,” while a foldout table underneath was laid with ceramic sculptures of food-laden plates and goblets that another class, studying nutrition, had created. The meal sculptures had been made according to nutrition guidelines, and the plates and cups had been glazed and fired to be safe to eat off of.
At the Lincoln Community School, teacher Nancy McClaran builds a yearly arts curriculum inspired by a different artist each year. This year, as many color-filled cut-out collages demonstrated, the artist of choice was Harlem Renaissance artist Romare Bearden.
McClaran said she meets with students one-on-one each year to discuss the art they want to show. She writes down their stories about one of their pieces and places them, along with the student’s photograph, next to their favorite piece of artwork.
“It’s about them,” McClaran said. “I want to teach them things, of course, but it’s about them. That’s really part of my practice as a teacher … And they do such beautiful work.”
Michaela Granstrom, who teaches for the art programs at Beeman Elementary School and Monkton Central School, plans the curriculum to expose her students to a variety of media. She speaks to teachers to determine good fits for the curriculum, incorporates interesting ideas that pique her own curiosity (like the Southwest-inspired ceramic sculptures on display), as well as what the students request.
“For instance, the wood materials,” she said, indicating a table full of painted, foot-high animal sculptures. “They’ve just been asking me so much to use wood, so (it encouraged me to do) something I hadn’t done for a few years.”
At the high school section of the fair, teacher Bruce Abbott beamed as he showed off works from his graphic design, ceramics and metal-smithing classes.
“This is the best three days of the year,” Abbott said. “It shifts the focus toward the arts.”
With school districts across the nation cutting “non-essential” programs like the arts and physical education, the ANeSU Fine Arts Festival also serves to demonstrate just how broadly the arts can enrich a school community.
“We’ve been really fortunate in our district that arts programs are supported,” Cleary said. ‘There’s a lot of support for the arts in our community.”
Abbott echoed the sentiment.
“I think Mount Abe students are pretty lucky. For a small high school, the art class choices that they have — it’s pretty unusual.”

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