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High School Art Teachers Share Space with Their Students in 'Passing the Palette' at MCCC Gallery through March 8


Alumna Nicole Backlund ('07), an art teacher at Trenton Central High School, is pictured with Vans Custom Culture mixed media sculptures by three of her students, Jeyson Sanchez, Marlon Gonzalez-Aguilar and Astrid Gregorio-Vega.

Caitlyn Higgins, left, with her drawing entitled "Dancer," and teacher Carolyn McGrath, with her drawing, "Joanne."

Liam Carey with his charcoal sketch, "You Brock My World," and teacher Renee Egan with her oil painting, "Black Rock Winter."

Lawrence High School art teacher Sean Carney, an MCCC alumnus, is pictured with student Laasyasri Vaddepalli, who painted "The Voyage."

From left, MCCC Fine Arts students Alyssa Schoenfelt, Daniela Foss and MacKenzie Mabin, with art faculty member Kyle Stevenson.

West Windsor, N.J. – “Passing the Palette,” on display at the Gallery at Mercer County Community College (MCCC) through March 8, has an appreciative audience.

There are the local high school art teachers who teach all day, but don’t always have the chance to display their own work. And, there are their selected students, some of whom have been making art since they were small children and are now having an opportunity to show their family, friends and community just what they have been creating.

All the teachers who came out for the opening reception on Jan. 24 agreed that giving their students a beautiful college gallery space in which to exhibit is motivating and encouraging -- and puts students in touch with the art community at Mercer. Trenton Central High School art teacher Nicole Backlund, a 2007 MCCC Fine Arts alumna, submitted a photograph for the show, while four of her students submitted mixed media pieces.

“It’s such a great experience for my students to be recognized. I always tell them how strong Mercer’s Fine Arts program is. Through all of my education, my art classes at Mercer really stood out. I love coming back to the Mercer Gallery,” she said.

After completing her associate degree, Backlund transferred to The College of New Jersey and earned her bachelor's degree in art education. After one year teaching in an elementary school in Trenton, she moved up to Trenton Central High School, where she has been ever since.

Noting that she gets to teach what she loves, Backlund says her approach to teaching has changed over the years. “In the beginning, I taught what I liked. Now, I teach what I think my students will like. I want my classroom to be a place where they can relax and be creative,” she said, adding that for her ESL students, art class is an especially gratifying place for them to express themselves.

Sean Carney, also an MCCC alumnus, teaches at Lawrence High School, and he, too, is happy to let his students draw outside the lines. He attended the opening with one of his students, Laasyasri Vaddepalli, whom he referred to as simply "fantastic. Everything she paints is great. I am so happy to have her in my class,” he said.

Vaddepalli is just as enthusiastic about Mr. Carney's work and says it’s an honor to have been selected for the show. “It’s a thrill to be part of this show,” said Vaddepalli , who came to the opening with her family.

Carney said his approach to teaching art is all about expression. “I give my students exposure and foundations, but I want their art to reflect versions of themselves. They can break my rules as long as they are not being lazy about it. Hard work is key,” he said.

Eleventh grader Caitlyn Higgins, from Hopewell Valley Central High School, has been drawing since childhood. Her detailed graphite drawing of a dancer is being shown for the second time; the first time was in a New Hope gallery. Accompanied by her mother, Higgins met up with her teacher, Carolyn McGrath, whose graphite drawing is displayed next to her student's..

“It’s weird to see my work displayed,” Higgins said, noting that she created it alone in her living room, and now it’s on public display. McGrath agreed. “Art is private, but then you open it up to the world.”

Hopewell Valley junior Liam Carey, who did a pastel drawing based on a photograph he took of a friend, connected with his art teacher, Renee Egan, at the show. Her oil painting, “Black Rock Winter,” is on display next to Carey’s.

“I’m glad my drawing was included. It started out as a photograph on my phone and look where it is now,” Carey said.

The MCCC Gallery is located on the second floor of the Communications Building on the college’s West Windsor Campus, 1200 Old Trenton Road. Gallery hours are Mondays, Tuesdays and Thursdays, 11 a.m. to 3 p.m., and Wednesdays, 11 a.m. to 7 p.m.

Among the participating high schools are Lawrence, Hopewell Valley, Trenton Central West, Allentown, and the Peddie School. Thirty works are included in the show.

The Gallery's curator and director is MCCC Professor of Fine Arts Lucas Kelly. For more about shows at the Gallery at Mercer, click here. Visit the Gallery on Facebook here.

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