A unique art show that opens Friday at the Clayton Fine Art Gallery shows what can happen when young art students get a chance to work with St. Louis art professionals.
“The Blooming Artists Project” will display student artwork side by side with the work of their mentors — local jewelers, sculptors, painters, fiber artists and photographers.
Marilyn Callahan, an art teacher in the Lindbergh School District, got the idea for the project, which initially began as an effort to expand the showcasing of student work beyond classroom and school exhibits. But then she began to think about what could happen if she brought together students and professional artists.
“I thought why don’t I get these two groups together?’’ she said. “The students have an opportunity to rub elbows with artists and learn process and be inspired — and have an opportunity to then show their work in a professional venue. They can learn what it’s all about to be a professional artist. What it takes to talk about your work, to show your work. What it takes to labor over it.’’
The project began in January, when art teachers in the Lindbergh School District were asked to select students who demonstrated talent and potential. The young artists include elementary through high school students. They were introduced to their new mentors at a meeting in which they discussed art techniques and philosophies. The art professionals were also asked to create their own pieces inspired by the works of their young students.
Lindbergh High freshman Madi McClain worked with Webster Groves artist Rob Dreyer, who specializes in portraits of people and wildlife. Madi’s portrait of a wolf with bared teeth caught Dreyer’s attention, and he produced his own take on her original. He also blogged about the project on his website, telling Madi at one point: “You 'finished' your companion wolf painting about a month ago. I now want you to go back to it with fresh eyes and see if you can make any ‘magic’ happen. My most common critique of a student’s work is that they stopped too soon. Push yourself further. … Remember, it is just paint so don’t worry about 'ruining' anything.’’
Madi said she loves to draw, and she's learned from the project. She followed Dreyer’s advice and added details to her painting.
She also learned that it’s OK to make mistakes.
“You can always correct them later, and it doesn’t have to be perfect when you finish,’’ she said. “It’s great to know that other artists who are accomplished and so successful have the same doubts that I do.’’
Dreyer said the experience has been valuable for the artists, as well.
“I found some inspiration from the kids in terms of being reminded of that youthful enthusiasm and approach, which sometimes as professionals you lose sight of,’’ he said.
Dreyer likes to show students a still-life of fruit that he painted when he was a senior in high school. He wants them to know that they will grow as artists. It’s a message that he didn’t recognize at the time, so he put painting aside for many years.
“I was a pretty good artist in high school, and I was relatively pleased with the painting, but if you look at it you see how amateurish it is,’’ he said. “If I had any idea when I was 18 that I could have done what I’m doing now, I don’t think I would have waited so long.’’
Callahan hopes the students will develop lasting friendships with their mentors — and that they will see that there are career opportunities in the art world.
“Even if there’s one student who becomes a professional artist, or at least takes art and makes it a part of life, that would be my dream come true,'' she said.
In the meantime, Madi’s mom Lauri McClain said her family is excited about the exhibit.
“This is such an amazing opportunity,’’ she said. “As a parent of a child who’s loved art from the time she was 2 — to see an opportunity for her to blossom — it’s just another great way that Lindbergh does it right.’’
She has been enjoying Dreyer’s blog posts for Madi.
“I don’t know who gets more excited when one gets posted — her, or me, or her grandparents — but we’re all following it,’’ McClain said.
The Blooming Artists Project
What: An exhibit showcasing the work of Lindbergh School District art students and their professional mentors.
When: The opening is from 6-9 p.m. May 30, which will include a discussion of the project by the participants. The show runs through June 21.
Where: Clayton Fine Art Gallery, 21 N. Bemiston Road, Clayton.
For information: Visit the website of the Clayton Fine Art Gallery.