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Westfield State University’s Maris Art Gallery exhibits work by Springfield Public Schools students

Springfield Public Schools art students and their instructors showcased their projects in a Jan. 27, 2021, virtual gallery presentation sponsored by Westfield State University’s Arno Maris Art Gallery. 

IMAGE: "Grand Entrance" by Jazz Rivera of Springfield Conservatory of the Arts 

Organized in a PowerPoint presentation by Gallery Curator Faith Lund, the talented artists from Springfield High School of Technology, Springfield Conservatory of the Arts, and Springfield Renaissance School discussed their work with an audience of fellow students and Westfield State University faculty via Zoom. The work is also available online

Among those present from Westfield State University were Emily Todd, Ph.D., dean of the College of Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences; David Shapleigh, chair and professor of art; George Ramirez, assistant professor of art; Jamie Wainright, professor of art; and Maggie Nowinski, adjunct faculty member.  

Julie Jaron, director of visual and performing arts, Springfield Public Schools: Office of Instruction was also present, providing extensive feedback and praise for the students showcasing their work. 

Bringing to life a vast array of techniques, students exhibited the various mediums of artwork they have experimented with during the academic year. Some pieces displayed the elegant brushstrokes of watercolor, while others used resourceful, imaginative elements of photography. Powerful, strict pencil work further emulated the artists’ talent and creativity.  

The artwork showcased carried on a proud tradition envisioned by Arno Maris Art Gallery curator Faith Lund several years ago.  

“We wanted to give the Springfield Public School students a glimpse of what Westfield State University had to offer. What better way than through the arts,” she explained.  

Her idea has since blossomed, catching the attention of not only students exhibiting their work, but proud parents and families as well.  

“We noticed that there was a lot of conversation as students explained their work to friends and family,” Lund explained. “This brought forward the idea of not only having an exhibit but preceding it with a panel discussion in the “black box theater” adjacent to the gallery.” 

Lund imagined an event where Springfield Public School students and Westfield State University students and faculty from all departments would be drawn to discuss not only each piece of artwork but the process and feelings behind it as well.  

“The idea was to candidly talk not only about the individual student’s work and speak with each presenting student but to highlight what made each piece of art successful,” she said. 

In years past, a large screen was set up to showcase each student’s work individually, followed by an exhibit of the artwork in the Arno Maris Art Gallery. The exhibit lent itself to “many conversations and interactions,” said Lund, followed by a tour for Springfield Public School students of the Art Department in the Dower Center of the Arts. 

Although this year’s showcase was held virtually, the passion behind the process remained the same. As each piece of work was viewed on a PowerPoint slide via Zoom, students, and Springfield Public Schools instructors were given the chance to discuss the piece of art and the influence and thought process behind it. Inspiring dialogue sparked between both those from Springfield Public Schools as well as faculty and students from Westfield State University, as the candid conversations radiated encouragement and admiration.  

“It was a great feeling to highlight the student work that had been labored over for many hours. The result was not only the piece of art created but the inspiration and goal behind it,” said Lund. “This thought process was a very important part of giving emotion to the piece. The students deserved to be recognized and applauded. It ended in a very ‘feel-good’ moment of unity and support.” 

Some of this year’s art stemmed from elements of anxiety and uneasiness, as many students used the turmoil of this last year as inspiration. Daniel Gonzalez ’20 joined the gallery talk, applauding the vulnerability and honesty behind the many different forms of art on display.  

“It’s real; it’s everyone right now,” he said, referring to the emotion depicted in Springfield High School of Technology student Michael Vega Rivera’s Anxiety

When speaking of his piece Self Aware, Vega Rivera said, “As humans, we don’t give ourselves a break. We torture ourselves sometimes. Sometimes we overwork, and we say things to ourselves that we don’t deserve.”  

The “rawness” of Vega Rivera’s work is “exceptionally notable,” explained Springfield High School of Technology instructor Jennifer Sinclair, as he constantly taps into the “emotional connection” behind it. 

Olivia Melendez, a student at Springfield Conservatory of the Arts, used the political and personal struggles of the COVID-19 pandemic as a voice behind her Dreams Differed. The title is a play on words, referring to the line "what happens to a dream deferred?" in Langston Hughes’ poem, ‘Harlem,’ part of the inspiration for Melendez’s work. The grayscale portrait shows half an individual in a fit of restlessness, and the other side as a masked medical worker.  

“This piece is about anti-maskers and medical workers,” she explained. “It was a dream differed, as the dreams being differed are both sides. Anti-maskers don’t want things to change—they don’t want to deviate from their normal life.”  

In contrast to the pandemic’s medical workers, she said, “Their dreams have differed because people aren’t listening to the rules. They spread the virus, and, as a result—at least back in the early months—the hospitals overflowed. So, in a way, both dreams have differed.” 

In addition to Melendez, Annabelle Ramos, and Carlos Morales of Springfield High School of Technology used the ongoing pandemic as a form of inspiration. Morales’ three pieces, Holes, Needles, and Religion vs. Mind were created based on fears—one of which being the widespread fear of needles. In Ramos’ Nurse, a split figure depicted Good vs. Evil behind the fear of needles. 

“What I wanted to represent was the two-way street,” Ramos said. “The left side shows the bad intentions, anything negative. But the right is supposed to represent the truth: an actual nurse just trying to give the needle.”  

Regarding the ongoing vaccine debate, Ramos alluded to the need to see the good intentions as opposed to succumbing to fear.  

April Wesley, an instructor at Springfield Conservatory of the Arts, believes the “ups and downs” of the past 11 months have sparked a new level of innovation in her students.  

“My students are becoming much more creative throughout this entire process,” she explained.  

Westfield State University Art Professor George Ramirez believes the same logic, as he expressed his appreciation for the sincerity of the students present.  

“Everything is art,” he said. “We are so wound up in this idea that it always has to be pencil and paper, but there are so many ways through art to express yourself. Explore more, and have fun with it.”

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