CHS students display their art like pros

Photo Courtesy of Ellen Weisbord Columbia High School student Spencer Pearce celebrates at 1978 Maplewood Arts Center, which is showing student work from six high schools, including Pearce’s work in the background above.
Photo Courtesy of Ellen Weisbord
Columbia High School student Spencer Pearce celebrates at 1978 Maplewood Arts Center, which is showing student work from six high schools, including Pearce’s work in the background above.

MAPLEWOOD/SOUTH ORANGE, NJ — The artistic endeavors of students from Columbia High School and five additional local high schools, are currently featured in an innovative display in 1978 Maplewood Arts Center’s eighth annual Advanced Placement studio art exhibit, “Fresh 8.0,” which runs through Jan. 10.

In addition to the CHS students, the exhibit also features the work of AP art students from Newark Arts High, Montclair High School, West Essex Regional High School, Elizabeth High School Upper Academy and Governor Livingston High School.

Exhibit curator Onnie Strother, a former CHS art teacher and department chair, boasts more than two decades of service to the SOMA school district.

According to Strother, the exhibit originally began as a freshman art showcase during his time as an art department chairman at Newark Arts High, and gave his youngest students a chance to put their pieces on display. After he retired from teaching in 2008, Strother was asked to join the Education Committee for the 1978 Maplewood Arts Center, and he decided to bring the Fresh Exhibit along for the ride.

The exhibit at 1978 started out showing only the work of Columbia High School students, but has expanded over the years to feature the talents of budding artists from other area schools.

“We look for strong AP programs and we try to add a new school each year to help the show grow,” Strother said in an interview with the News-Record at the gallery on Sunday. “It gives the students a chance to see what students in other schools are doing, and it also gives the teachers a chance to connect with other educators and see what’s being done in other art programs locally.”

Strother said that this exhibit is also important because it’s a mid-year show and gives students the opportunity to see the quality of work being done by other AP students with comparable skills as they begin to put together the extensive portfolio required by the course in May.

The artwork presented at 1978 ranges from mixed media pieces of cardboard and textile materials to detailed figure drawings and carefully configured digital pieces. Though there is no theme for the Fresh exhibit, one characteristic all the pieces in the show have in common is the workmanship and care used to make them.

“The exhibit gives the students a chance to have a professional showing and parents can see what AP work entails,” Strother said. “This is an arts town with more than a few well-known artists who have either come from or settled here, so it’s a wonderful place for students to immerse themselves in the arts community.”

Ellen Weisbord, the CHS AP and Art 4 teacher, and Mara Rubin, the school district’s art education supervisor, share these sentiments, and encourage the AP and Art 4 students to show their work whenever the opportunity arises.
Weisbord makes it mandatory for her pupils to include pieces in the 1978 show. Each student must choose at least one piece and, depending on the size of the works chosen and the space allotted, each student can show up to three pieces.

“I think it’s important because they do work in the studio, and it’s very self-contained,” Weisbord said. “Exhibiting your work is important because it’s good to reflect what you want to put out there to represent yourself, and it really makes you think about what you would select to represent you and how you want that work to reflect who you are both as a person and as an artist.

“For the students who attend the opening, it really is helpful and exciting to be in a room where people they don’t know are looking at their work really carefully and seeing their work in relationship with it being thoughtfully hung, when it’s in a space other than where they created it and carefully composed, and seeing how their work relates to other students who are comparable,” Weisbord continued.

Weisbord says that the exhibit is also an opportunity for students to gain some real-world experience in the field of being a professional artist.

“They have to think of a title and a price for each piece, and sign contracts to be entered into the show,” she said. “We teach them to choose work that is well thought-out and well-crafted. There will be times when they will go through a juried process where the work is rejected, and we all have to get used to that as well as the instances where pieces are submitted and accepted for a show.”

Rubin also supports the students submitting their work to shows whenever possible.

“We are always encouraging students to exhibit their work because there is a different feeling when you create your work versus putting it out there for others to see,” Rubin said in a recent phone interview with the News-Record. “Both Ellen and I, as professional artists, understand the feeling of seeing people’s reactions and that’s an important experience for the students to have.

“Whenever there is an opportunity, show as much as possible,” she continued. “Get as comfortable as possible with presenting your work to others so it isn’t a daunting process.”

Gallery hours for the 1978 Maplewood Arts Center, located at 1978 Springfield Ave., are Saturdays and Sundays, from 2 to 5 p.m. and by appointment. For more information, visit