Once again this year — although perhaps not next year — it’s time for that annual explosion of creativity known as the West Central Youth Art Show.
A Heider Center show sponsored by the Wisconsin Art Education Association, it allows school art teachers from all over this part of the state to send in up to five student pieces of student art that they consider noteworthy.
“We’ll have over 100 works on display,’ said Quenten Brown, an art teacher at West Salem High School who is also vice president of the West Central Region.
Brown, with a little help from Delaney Schomberg – a senior who is one of his independent study students — is the person charged with hanging the exhibit.
Brown said there was definitely a “wow factor” each time he and Schomberg opened a fresh box of submissions.
“This is an exhibit that shows how teachers are allowing kids to experiment and have fun and create art out of almost anything — you don’t have to have just a pencil and a pen,” Brown said. “It’s both exciting and inspiring.”
As an example of how far kids can think outside the box, Brown pointed to a work sent in by Travis Gargulak, a sixth-grader at Black River Falls Middle School. Most of the art in the show is two-dimensional because that kind of art is easiest to hang, yet Gargulak found a way to make his art stand out — literally.
“He made a dog face out of a crushed pop can — essentially putting a three-dimensional dog into two-dimensional space,” Brown said. “When we opened that box we said ‘Wow, this is the coolest thing we’ve seen so far!”
While Gargulak is a sixth-grader, participants in the show range from the lowest grade elementary school students to high school seniors. In the past, Brown has commented often on how he loves the “fearlessness” of young artists who don’t know what they can and can’t do.
“I say this every year, but this is one of my favorite shows,” Brown said. “I love seeing the enthusiasm, the different ways to be creative and the approaches of other teachers.”
Asked about other works that stood out for him this year, Brown mentioned the photography submissions from Tomah Middle School. “Delaney was saying ‘I can’t believe these are from middle schoolers’!” he recalled.Brown added that the quality of those submissions has inspired him to rethink how he teaches his own students. He also noted that he was in awe of the technical abilities and expressiveness of some of the high school submissions, particularly portraits from La Crosse Central High School.
Although the West Central Youth Art Show has been a mainstay at the Heider Center in recent winters, that might well change in the future since the West Central Region is so large.
“It could end up going somewhere else,” Brown said. “I know that it’s hard for people from Eau Claire, for example, to come all this way to see the show.”
That’s one more reason why local art lovers and people who enjoy looking at what imaginative young artists are up to should try and make it to this show.
The reception for student artists and their teachers is typically one of the most attended events in the Heider Art Gallery.
This year it’s scheduled for Thursday, Feb. 22. The public is welcome. “I’m just grateful that there are so many people helping to share our kids’ art with our communities,’ Brown said.