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Students Offer Their Take on Portraiture

Posted on 02 December 2011

web student Portraits for Parrish_5117

By Emily J. Weitz

For the past six weeks, the Parrish Art Museum has showcased “American Portraits: Treasures from the Parrish Art Museum.” With portrait paintings spanning the 19th and 20th centuries, the museum delves deep into the riches of its own collection.

But on the tail end of this exhibit, another body of work will be revealed. Inspired by American Portraits, school age children across the East End have created their own portraits, and these wildly colorful and energetic pieces will be on display in Students View American Portraits, with an opening reception this Saturday, December 3 from 3 to 5 p.m.

Laurie DeVito, art teacher at Sag Harbor Elementary School, adores this opportunity to work with the Parrish.

“We have such a rich artistic community here in Sag Harbor,” she says. “And it’s a great opportunity to tap into some of our resources.”

DeVito believes that when the students go to the Parrish and other cultural institutions on the East End, they are inspired in their own work to then go back to the classroom and create; the creative juices flow.

It’s one thing to go to a museum and look at the work on the walls. But with an effort like Students View American Portraits, “The experience is interactive,” says DeVito.

After visiting the museum, Sag Harbor Elementary students went back to the art room to make their own portraits. Each grade tackled a different assignment. Kindergarteners utilized shells and seaweed and other treasures that Meg Mandell, the other art teacher, had gathered on the beach.

Mandell gestures to the dozens of giant clam shells on one table in the art room.

“I’ve been going to the beach to collect things since the summer, knowing we would use them for our projects,” she says.

The students decorated the clam shells to make little faces, complete with seaweed hair, stone noses, moustaches, and googly eyes. Older kids worked on more traditional portrait paintings, or sculptures, or collaborative pieces. All the projects fall under the umbrella of portraiture, and the students were able to explore different interpretations of that idea.

In the art room at Sag Harbor Elementary, students’ work is bursting from the walls, filling the tables, and standing in the middle of the room. Their work is displayed throughout the school.

“And at the end of the year, we also have an opportunity for the kids to show their work in the school, when we invite parents to see what they’ve been doing,” says DeVito.

But this is different. The Parrish is a real museum, where work of some of the greatest artists in history has been showed.

For the students, “This is a real sense of pride,” says DeVito. “When they see their work displayed in the museum, it gives them a lot of confidence.”

Mandell chimes in that “It’s an affirmation of what they’re doing.”

Students’ work will be carefully shipped over to the Parrish in time for opening day, at which time students, families, and friends will be invited to a free reception to view the work on display for the first time.

“The kids always run right over to see their work, first, of course,” says DeVito.

In addition, there will be food, drinks and entertainment, including a juggler, face painting, and other kid-friendly activities. This event is open to the public, and it’s a chance to see the work that Sag Harbor students are doing as well as kids from other districts.

“We definitely get ideas from other schools,” says Mandell.

“And they get ideas from us,” adds DeVito. “I think it’s a great time to see the amazing work our students are producing. We’re a very artistic community and that is evident in the work.”

This exhibition was open to all Pre-K through 8th grade students in Riverhead, Southampton, East Hampton, and Southold townsips. In another upcoming exhibition, high school students from Brookhaven, Riverhead, East Hampton and Southampton will have work on display, and there will be a competition for high school seniors.

The student art show is “one of my favorite exhibits that the Parrish does,” says DeVito. She adds slyly that she’s “not at all biased. But seriously. It is so incredibly colorful and creative. It’s a lot of fun.”

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