This week, Ross School’s seventh grade class debuted its annual exhibition, Luminous Illusions: A Collection of Works by Three Artists. The exhibit showcases the masterful work of local artists Michael Butler, Carly Haffner, and Gabriele Raacke. The class dedicated this year’s exhibition to Ross School Founder Courtney Sale Ross, in acknowledgment of her support over the years.
Curating an exhibition featuring the work of professional local artists has been an annual tradition for Ross seventh graders for nearly 20 years. Under the guidance of Visual Arts teacher Jon Mulhern, English teacher Carol Crane, and Dean of Visual Arts Jennifer Cross, the students perform all the tasks associated with organizing an art show. They work collaboratively to visit artists’ studios, design and install the artwork, host the opening reception, and produce a catalog.
“When I ask students their favorite part of this project, they say that it’s going to artists’ studios and seeing where they create work,” Jen said. “What I find interesting in the process is how students, in their roles as curators, think holistically, synthesize the process, and create something that’s never existed by putting the selections together in a thematic and engaging way.”
This year’s show focuses around the work of artists whose pieces all have a folk art sensibility, addressing common themes like home, local history, nostalgia, and fantasy. Michael’s work, which has been featured in the seventh grade show previously, is heavily influenced by his connection to Sag Harbor’s Eastville neighborhood. Both Carly and Gabriele use multiple media to create pieces inspired by their pasts and by world travel. Rounding out the collection is student-produced artwork created during a painting workshop students took with Gabriele.
The resulting collection of curated works is both playful and captivating, and the maturity expressed by students during its production is evident. Members of this year's class credited the project with giving them a greater appreciation for strong communication and leadership skills. “I find that students can be decisive and have creative ways of solving problems that I wouldn’t think of, even as an experienced curator,” Jen said. Moreover, the project can have resonance beyond students’ middle school years. Over the project’s past two decades, several have gone on to further develop the skills learned through the project to build a career in art, ultimately becoming artists, curators, or art historians, or running artist spaces.
“This project lets students create connections to the artists they meet and feel a part of the community of artists on the East End,” Jen said. “They also get the chance to contribute to the area’s art history and take ownership of something bigger than themselves.”
Luminous Illusions will be on display in the Ross Gallery through Monday, June 18.