CHS students are ‘Emerging Artists’

Columbia High School’s Emerging Artists Z Hunt, left, and Ciara Navan stand together. Hunt’s ‘Exoskeleton’ is at the far left. Navan’s ‘Give, Give, Give’ is at the right.

By Paul Brubaker
Special to the News-Record

A “tree person” inspired during the pandemic shutdown and a cicada freshly emerged from its shell were the works of art created by two Columbia High School student-artists displayed at the 36th annual Emerging Artists exhibit at Kean University on Sunday.

Senior Ciara Navan and Sophomore Z Hunt were among the 37 artists from throughout the state featured in the show in the special exhibit presented by the Art Administrators of New Jersey.

“We are extremely proud of our student artists Ciara and Z, who have both represented their high school and the District so well in this statewide exhibition of student art,” said Kevin F. Gilbert, acting superintendent of the South Orange and Maplewood School District. “I want to congratulate them both on their thoughtful expressiveness and their artistic talent. I also want to thank their parents for supporting their artistic pursuits, and the administrators and teachers who helped our student achieve their best.”

“It’s all about encouraging students to achieve their full artistic potential,” said James Manno, the fine and performing arts supervisor for the South Orange & Maplewood School District. “AANJ’s Emerging Artists exhibition not only provides students the opportunity to have professional exhibition experience and receive recognition but allows them to network with peers statewide and admire their work. Students who receive either an Emerging Artists Merit or Honorable Mention Award are eligible to compete for the AANJ Achievement Award and ultimately receive a New Jersey Governor’s Award in the spring.”

Gilbert and Manno expressed their gratitude to Alexandra Cappucci, Navan’s art teacher, and Kandice Stewart, Hunt’s art teacher, for guiding their students through the exhibit’s entry process.

“This is a tree person,” Navan said, as she explained the piece she calls, “Give, Give, Give,” – a nod to Shel Silverstein’s story, “The Giving Tree.”

Navan created her predominantly green acrylic paint and colored pencil artwork as the pandemic shutdown was ending.

Her picture was inspired by her experiences communing with nature through long walks she took at the South Mountain Reservation during the time that was marked by social distancing, remote learning, mandatory mask-wearing, and isolation.

“It definitely was a solace and a safe place when the world wasn’t feeling so safe,” Navan said.

Hunt drew from memories of seeing lots of cicada shells to create “Exoskeleton,” using acrylic paint, wire, pins, marker, and pastels. The insects emerged from the ground while Hunt was a Tuscan Elementary School student.

“They were everywhere,” Hunt said, “in my backyard and around school.”

To Hunt, a cicada shedding its shell is a more authentic metaphor than, say, a caterpillar turning into a butterfly to support the theme of their piece, the act of transformation.

“Transformation is not always pristine and beautiful,” Hunt said. “The process can be painful and raw.”

But transformation is also growth, which is why Hunt’s triumphant cicada is risen on a background of outwardly-reaching spindles, kind of like the roots of a tree or veins in a human body.

“As we grow, everything new has a new branch,” Hunt said.