January 11

Central Maine students create collaborative portraits

Artwork created by 200 students will be assembled at UMA’s Danforth Gallery.

By Susan McMillan smcmillan@centralmaine.com
Staff Writer

With an ink pen and charcoal, Kaylin Mansir drew, shaded and smudged.

click image to enlarge

Growers in a grid: University of Maine at Augusta art instructor Susan Bickford poses in front of a portrait of the Perry family from Winterberry Farm in Belgrade. It’s one of 10 portraits of local organic farmers assembled from squares completed by students at 10 central Maine schools. Bickford organized the project, which culminates in an exhibit opening Thursday at UMA’s Danforth Gallery.

Contributed photo by Robert Rainey

click image to enlarge

ARTISTS’ MUSES: Allison McKeen’s photos of 10 local organic farmers, including the Perry family from Winterberry Farm in Belgrade, were the basis for the collaborative portraits created by students at 10 central Maine schools. The finished portraits will be on display at the University of Maine at Augusta’s Danforth Gallery from Thursday through Feb. 21.

Contributed photo by Robert Rainey

The Gardiner Area High School sophomore didn’t know what she was working on, really. All she knew was that she had to reproduce the lines and patches of light and dark from the three images she’d been given onto three 7.75-by-7.75-inch squares of paper.

Mansir also isn’t sure what to expect when her three squares are assembled with 357 others into 10 portraits Thursday at the University of Maine at Augusta’s Danforth Gallery.

“I have no idea,” she said. “That’s why I’m excited to see what it becomes.”

Mansir and her 2-D design classmates are part of the Collaborative Portrait Project, which drew on the talents of 10 central Maine art teachers and more than 200 of their students to create large-scale portraits of local organic farmers.

Each portrait started with a black-and-white photograph by Gardiner photographer Allison McKeen, which was then divided into a six-by-six grid to create 36 squares. The pieces were scrambled and distributed to the art teachers, whose students reproduced them in a variety of media.

The portraits will be reassembled during the first half-hour or so of the exhibit’s opening reception, which is scheduled for 5 to 7 p.m. Thursday.

“That’s the magical moment,” said Susan Bickford, the project’s organizer. “When the images emerge, they’re in a state of becoming. It’s exciting. It’s like they’re being born, in a way.”

Bickford has assigned similar projects in her art classes at UMA and watched the students coalesce as they worked together. In a similar way, she wanted to bring local schools together through collaboration rather than their usual competitive interactions in sports and other areas.

The Collaborative Portrait Project also was inspired by CSA: Community Supporting Arts, a project of local agriculture and arts organizations in 2012 and 2013 that paired artists with farms, many of which Bickford recruited to take part in the Collaborative Portrait Project.

With the help of a grant and supplies donated by A.C. Moore, the project provided schools with high-quality paper, pens, ink brushes and black and white paint.

The schools involved are Camden Hills Regional School, Cony High School, Gardiner Area High School, Lewiston High School, Maranacook Community High School, Palermo Consolidated School, Winslow High School, Winthrop High School and Wiscasset High School. A group of home-schooled students in the Whitefield area also is involved.

Winthrop senior Amanda Burke said she was initially scared to have her work shown in public, but her excitement and curiosity drowned out her nervousness as she saw the work she and her classmates were producing.

“I’m looking forward to seeing so many different students from other classes that did the same exact thing we did, and being able to look at everyone’s art as one,” Burke said. “Adults don’t think kids have the talent yet, so having the parents look at it and other adults is going to give us the satisfaction that we can do what we want.”

Gardiner Area High School art teacher Meghann Gipson said she volunteered her students for the project to connect them with the larger community — both other schools and the farmers — and because it’s rare for high school students’ work to be shown publicly.

She also saw the project as an opportunity for her students to practice drawing techniques such as hatching or pointillism, as well as media ranging from ink washes to newspaper collage.

“So many things now are moving from handmade to digitized, and this was taking something digitized and bringing it back to handmade,” Gipson said.

Gipson invited farmer Dalziel Lewis into class to talk about the source of food and the life of a farmer, and students did an assignment that involved setting up a farmstand to be visually appealing.

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