Conventional wisdom — to the extent that there still is such a thing in our highly mediated, hyper-compartmentalized, and socially fractured world — is that arts in the public schools have taken a beating over the years. New football stadiums and practice facilities seem to get built with no problem or objection, but teachers and parents often are forced to scrape together resources on the fundraising circuit just to bring in a professional artist for a week.
In actuality, the picture obviously varies — from district to district, from school to school — but the show that opened last week in The Gallery at Ten Oaks in McMinnville provides a snapshot of the state of arts education in Yamhill County, and it’s encouraging.
For the second year, owners Dan and Nancy Morrow have opened the premium first-floor display space in their gallery to students. Last March, they invited McMinnville High School students to submit work, and they felt the show was successful enough to merit bringing in all Yamhill County high schools this year. “The students who came to the reception last year were so jazzed,” Dan said. “Nancy had name badges for every student. It’s those little things. It’s like, ‘Look, you’re here at a reception and people are coming to see your work on the wall.’”
Paintings, drawings, and ceramics by artists who attend high schools in Yamhill-Carlton, Amity, and Sheridan (as well as the private Delphian School) will greet visitors to the gallery through Feb. 2, and a reception will be held at 6 p.m. Wednesday, Jan. 15. Art by McMinnville and Newberg students will be showcased starting Feb. 4, with the reception set for 6 p.m. Feb. 12.
I recall being impressed with the overall quality at last year’s show, and the same holds true this time. Several portraits of young women by Delphian students stand out. My eye kept drifting back to a couple of delightful acrylics by 15-year-old Chloe Latch. Another acrylic, by 17-year-old Delphian Gemma Bell titled The Look, seems to challenge the viewer to come up with a word that describes just what that look (the girl’s expression) actually means, what sort of emotional and cognitive state is going on there. It’s nuanced, complex, and contradictory. This piece, along with several others, could easily be relocated upstairs with the pros.
It comes as no surprise that the better the program, the better the quality of the art that comes out of it. On the whole, work by students from the Delphian School, where annual fees for kids age 14 and up can range as high as $56,000 plus another $2,800 for supplies, is superior with regard to technique. At the other end of the funding spectrum — like, literally at the end — one finds the tiny Sheridan School District, which until a couple of years ago had gone years without any arts program. When art instructor Odessa Hansen was hired for the 2018-19 school year, she was told the district had been without art classes for at least 15 years. “But no one was exactly sure,” she added.
Students coming in generally had very little knowledge about art, she said, though a few had already developed some skills and talents. In all grades (which has since expanded so Hansen also teaches grades 6 through 8) students work with acrylic, charcoal, graphite, watercolor, oil pastel, string art, paper quilling, tie dye, wire sculpture, papier-mâché, and general crafts. High school students additionally do ceramics and screen-printing work for shirts.
“The students that submitted art for the show are students that had very little skill at first, but have grown so much in the past three semesters,” she said. “I am intensely proud of them.”
Over in Yamhill-Carlton (known to Oregon literary fans as Beverly Cleary country) Nicole Ka’ahelalani DeWitt, a high school senior, is among those who have worked to develop their talents. “Almost everyone in my family does art,” she said. “Once I started, I couldn’t stop. I eventually realized that I like to do art that has meaning. That’s the main reason I stick with it.”
DeWitt’s family has a sailboat, and she volunteers at the Oregon Coast Aquarium in Newport. A research project on plastic that washes up on the beach inspired her to produce Destruction Within the Beauty, a striking mixed media piece that incorporates part of a surfboard, paint, and, naturally, bits of plastic. After high school, she plans to continue studying on the coast through an aquarium science program — and, she adds, to continue making art.
The Gallery at Ten Oaks is at 801 S.W. Baker St. (Oregon 99W) across from Linfield College. Open 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesday through Sunday, Phone: 503-472-1925. A complete online gallery of the students’ work may be seen here.
This story is supported in part by a grant from the Yamhill County Cultural Coalition, Oregon Cultural Trust, and Oregon Community Foundation.