Cape Elizabeth High School’s art students of the 2019-2020 school year have their work displayed in a virtual gallery this year. The gallery can be viewed at sites.google.com/view/cehsstudentartexhibit2020 and offers a guided tour. Courtesy photo of Rozamond Gross

CAPE ELIZABETH — Over 300 works of art are on display in the Cape Elizabeth High School virtual exhibit, including pieces from the 2019-2020 school year’s art students.

Art teachers Janna DeWan and Rosamond Gross said that they were excited that students still had the opportunity this year to have a place to display their work. Under normal circumstances, Cape Elizabeth High School fills the first floor of the building with students’ artwork from the school year.

“It was important to me that students still had a culminating display of their artwork in spite of not being able to display their actual work,” Gross said. “During the distance learning time, we had developed some critique processes using virtual technology. I’d stumbled across some apps that mimic the in-person display and discussion. Students really responded to that and seeing their art on a wall.”

DeWan and Gross both teach art fundamentals classes, Gross said. Gross also teaches photography as well as painting and drawing classes at different levels.

Photography by Nathan Mullen, a student at Cape Elizabeth High School. Courtesy photo of Rosamond Gross

“My beginning photography class was disappointed that we wouldn’t be using a darkroom,” she said. “That class is usually all 35 mm film, but we switched to working digitally. Even though they didn’t get the hands-on craft of working with film, they got experience with other fundamentals of photography, like composition.”

A ceramics teachers at Cape Elizabeth High School, DeWan said that she had to be a bit more creative when distance learning started in March. She turned her class into more of a multimedia art course that showed students how to make art from daily life.

“I had them looking at strong female artists,” she said. “They were very choice-based projects.”

Her students also painted portraits of Nigerian students, DeWan said, many of which are on display in the gallery. The project was part of a program called the Memory Project.

“This is an organization that is worldwide,” she said. “They find countries and children throughout the world who have less advantages than we do. They’re in impoverished or war-torn countries so they use art or poetry to show the world is connected. What that means for us is that we get photographs of children; this year was from Nigeria, and the students paint the portraits and then we send them to children in Nigeria.”

The project allowed Cape Elizabeth students to reflect on how fortunate they are and how they can use their privileges to help children and families in less advantaged places, DeWan said.

Her projects also served to be stress-relievers, something that most of the students appreciated during this uncertain time, she said.

“The way that I teach is that I am very honest with my students in that I’m not teaching them to become artists,” she said. “I know that not everyone is going to become a professional artist. I talk to them about the creative process, which you can use in any aspect of your life. That sort of mindset of creative problem solving is interdisciplinary. I use art in the art room as a stress-relief.”

Portrait by Alexandra Lynch, a student at Cape Elizabeth High School. Her piece is on display in the art program’s virtual gallery. Courtesy photo of Rosamond Gross

In one of Gross’s class, her students had been working on hand-drawn self-portraits, but all of a sudden that had to stop when distance learning was announced suddenly, she said.

“They had these half-done options, so I said they could switch over and do it digitally or they could do it by hand,” she said. “Doing it digitally kind of made it like a coloring book. Even though that wasn’t the original plan, it transitioned nicely.”

Some students had a difficult time mastering technology, Gross said, but by the end of the year she was proud of her students for keeping up with the unexpected change.

While it can be another tool for creating art, the process of learning a program or an app can be tricky, she said. Digital art also cannot completely replace the process of physical mediums.

“I think that frustration is due to the learning curve of using technology and yet another tool to create,” she said. “I think many students, not all but many, felt there was a lack of immediacy by using technology. I had many students let me know that they were initially frustrated with learning an app but once they got the hang of it and stuck with it they found it a lot of fun. They started to see the possibilities of creating digitally.”

For the virtual tour, Gross recommends that people take the guided tour first and then they can click through to students’ individual pieces.

“I encourage folks to share it with family and friends,” she said. “That’s an advantage to technology — you can just send a link to a cousin who may be in New Zealand.”

The tour can be found through Cape Elizabeth’s website or at sites.google.com/view/cehsstudentartexhibit2020/cehs-web-exhibit.

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