AREA Gallery on the Portland campus of University of Southern Maine played host to the opening reception of a juried alumni art exhibit this past Thursday night titled “Transitions.”

“The alumni show is a wonderful chance for us to reconnect with past USM students, who are continuing to develop as artists,” said Kim Grant, USM art professor and department chair. “While many alumni are frequently showing their work throughout the state and the country, this is an opportunity to see all of their pieces together.”

Guests sat attentively in the gallery, a tiny enclave located next to the USM book store in the Woodbury Campus Center, and listened to each of the seven exhibiting artists as they spoke about the inspiration and materials used for their work.

“I feel everyone should have art and be able to afford art,” said Jody Desjardins, a fine artist from Burlington, Vt., as he introduced his work to the audience. A 2003 graduate with a BFA in painting, he shared his philosophy and his enthusiasm for being selected to participate in this exhibit. “It’s very exciting to be showing at USM.”

Lis Janes, who graduated in 2007 with a discipline in printmaking and who is based here in Portland, spoke before her series of four prints, inspired by the concept of cyborgs and humans versus machines. “These pieces pose questions about humanity and were inspired by ideas that have been percolating since 2007,” she said.

The crowd was a mix of students, family members, faculty and alumni. Michael Connor, himself an illustrator and adjunct assistant professor of illustration at MECA, chatted with Jan Piribeck, professor of Digital Art and Foundations at USM. Exhibiting artist Kathi Smith enjoyed some time visiting with family members Jim Smith and Beth Hartsock of Wilton.

“It’s a nice way to connect with our alumni in this kind of open format,” said Carolyn Eyler, director of exhibitions and programs at USM and curator of this event. She was joined by artist and Best of Show winner Tyson Jacques and Erin Bartoletti, coordinator for arts promotion at USM. “This is a juried show and in this case, was an open invitation to our alumni to participate.”

To announce the Best of Show award, Eyler introduced show juror Virginia Sassman Rose, founder of Portland’s Rose Contemporary Fine Art Gallery and art instructor at Southern Maine Community College.

“I love craft and things that are beautifully and thoughtfully made,” she said as she announced Jacques and his work, “A Unanimous Declaration” as her selection. Tyson, who is now based in Dover, N.H., expressed his gratitude at being recognized for his piece, which is based upon the actual signatures on the Declaration of Independence.

“It’s a real honor and incredibly validating,” he said after the show. “It may sound trite, but you just need to keep making work and seize upon every opportunity you can to share it, because if you can’t share it, it’s kind of lost.”

Fellow alumni artist Ellen Hodgkin, who is now an art teacher at Edward Little High School in Auburn, enjoyed the company of graphic designer Nancy Montgomery as the evening began to wind down.

“Carolyn is a really good curator and I follow her shows,” said Montgomery, who runs a graphic design business in Portland. “I like some of these pieces a lot. It’s important for alumni to have a place to come and reflect back on where they’ve been and how their work has developed.”

For more information about this exhibit, please visit http://usm.maine.edu/gallery. 

Margaret Logan is a freelance writer who lives in Scarborough. She can be contacted at:

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