By Rebecca Schmitz
This month, 30 Henley art students will participate in an artistic rite of passage few middle schoolers get to experience—their first gallery opening. On October 6, from 5:30-8:30 p.m., Zoës Kitchen, a Mediterranean-style fast-casual restaurant located at Barrack’s Road, will hold an opening night event for the artists, their families, and the public to celebrate the students’ artistic achievements. Each artist will have an 11 X 14 canvas painting on display. Paintings will be on sale for $20 each, with 100 percent of the proceeds going back to the school. The restaurant will also donate 15 percent of the night’s profits on food to Henley.
“We don’t spend a lot of money on marketing or advertising. Instead, we use the money we would spend on advertising giving back to the community,” said Shannon Krueger, general manager of Zoës Kitchen. “We do many fundraisers, but this one is by far the most popular. We have raised thousands of dollars in one night.” The restaurant has been displaying student artwork from schools around the area since it opened two years ago. “We try to choose schools that have a great parent following and great parent interaction.”
Maureen Russell, visual arts teacher at Henley, said her students approached the project with a mixture of excitement and apprehension. Students were given the choice whether to participate, and some opted not to, citing concerns about finishing a painting they could be proud of in a short amount of time or a reluctance to sell their work. “It was hard for some of them to think of parting with pieces they invested so much in,” Russell said. Nevertheless, many students leapt at the chance to share their work with the world. “I thought it was a really good opportunity, since I love art so much,” 7th grader Cecilia Dagner said, concentrating on her painting of a cat lying on a brilliant blue quilt. “It will be cool to see my artwork exhibited.” Overall, Russell said, “Our students are excited about having the opportunity to have their art displayed and sold in a public, commercial space. Selling their art publicly is the newest piece for them.” She said they are fortunate that the art program is well-funded by the school and Parent and Teacher Support Organization. Her students will help decide where the money they earn will go.
Russell chose “Great Explorations—Personal Connections to Influential Artists” as the theme for the show. The children began their projects by searching through a stack of art magazines, hoping to find a style that would inspire them. Once they had selected one, they shared their choice with the class and explained why it resonated with them and how they planned to interpret it. Seventh grader Caroline Scogna was attracted to an impressionistic style, for example, and chose to render a pattern of cobblestones illuminated by a gentle light. “It reminds me of the beautiful sunsets where my grandparents live in New York,” she said. Amber Parker had visited Central Park in the summer and had been struck by its beauty. She decided to create a portrait of the park in autumn: “I thought about how nice it would look in the fall, with the colors of the leaves contrasting with the gray buildings.” Sports lovers Sebastian Provencio and Colby Acton chose to represent a basketball player and a football player respectively, the sports figures leaping across the canvas in lively motion. Several students chose to paint animals such as dogs and horses—some using a more abstract, colorful representation; others employing a more true-to-life technique.
The community is encouraged to attend the opening and support the students’ hard work. Visitors to Zoës Kitchen throughout the month of October will no doubt be amazed to learn these works of art were created by middle schoolers. “Their craftsmanship and level of detail are amazing,” Russell marveled. On a recent school day, students in the art room were focused and attentive as they transferred their work to the final canvas, with Russell circulating through the large, brightly-lit classroom offering guidance and answering questions. “They give 1,000 percent,” she said. “They are positive, curious, and dedicated. Creating art on demand is not an easy thing. What they are doing is really admirable.”