Students, professionals celebrate artwork at annual Whidbey Festival of the Arts

Creativity is in the air as students from all South Whidbey Schools are diving into new mediums and refining their skills for the upcoming Whidbey Festival of the Arts.

Fifth grade student Ashton McGee puts a coat of burnt orange on his colonial candlestick holder in Betsy Gmerek’s art class at South Whidbey Elementary School.

Creativity is in the air as students from all South Whidbey Schools are diving into new mediums and refining their skills for the upcoming Whidbey Festival of the Arts.

Along with visual and literary art, the fourth annual festival will feature live performances from the middle and high school jazz bands. The festival will be held from 5 to 8 p.m. Friday, May 30, and 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday, May 31.

The South Whidbey School District, Whidbey Island Arts Council and South Whidbey Elementary School PTA produce the event. Professional and student work will be on display along with treats such as hot dogs, baked goods and beverages.

For the first time, the South Whidbey Elementary School Talent Show will be held at the festival at 2 p.m. Saturday.

Frank Rose, chairman of the council, said the program and culminating festival is vital because it exposes students to art they might not get at schools.

Rose hopes to further develop the artists-in-residence program at the South Whidbey and Coupeville school districts. The program brings working artists into classrooms to teach lessons. The festival is a way to showcase the good work the program brings to the school, he said.

At South Whidbey High School, Don Wodjenski’s studio art class is hard at work finishing their pieces in time for the festival.

The class is independently-driven as students can work on anything from watercolors and oil to clay and photography. He hopes students use the class to explore their own abilities.

Freshman Katy Jordan is an avid painter following in the footsteps of her father, who is also a painter. She said she’s been painting seriously for three years now and the class has helped her grow as an artist.

“It allows people to explore their own journey and have room to grow,” she said.

Senior Meaghan Wright has taken 14 different art classes during her time at South Whidbey and said she has also developed as an artist.

At times when she has struggled in her artwork, Wodjenski was the teacher who got her back on track and focused. She said Wodjenski has helped her learn not just about art, but how to make a living in the industry. Celeste Erickson / The Record | Katy Jordan, a freshman, uses a wipe-away technique for her oil painting in Don Wodjenski’s class.

The 17-year-old enjoys graphic design and photography and is already starting to take photos at a professional level for special events.

Artist-in-residence coordinator Betsy Gmerek teaches an art class at South Whidbey Elementary School about once a week. One of the projects she led this spring tied in information from another lesson the fifth-grade students were learning about early America.

For the art project she taught the students how to make candlestick holders with clay. She wanted to give students an idea of what life was like in the early days. She explained to the class that candles were taken from room to room at night when there was no lighting, and the candlestick holders were made to be functional and not decorative, which limited the students’ color and design choices.

She hopes lessons that tie in other learning projects help students learn through art and creativity.

“Art is about observation,” she said. “We don’t want to put a lid on creative thinking.”

She said she enjoys leading the students in art projects because it brings out a different side of kids that she wouldn’t normally see — some even keep working during recess.

Gmerek said she is looking forward to the festival to showcase the skills of each child and to show the younger students that art is for everyone.

“Everybody has artistic thinking,” she said.

That message resonated with high school senior Joanna Cook when she attended the festival last year for the first time. She said seeing all the different types of artwork at the event inspired her to enter pieces for the first time in the festival.

Cook said she never thought she was talented at art, but found ways to create pieces she enjoyed making.

Cook has previously taken ceramics, drawing, 2-D and 3-D classes. For the festival, she started her clay pieces wanting to make decorative dishes, but became frustrated with the floral patterns. She then decided to focus on individual flowers for each piece and was happy with the result.

“I love doing it even though I’m not good. It’s about passion,” she said. “Anybody can do art.”

Wodjenski said one of his overarching lessons in the class is to teach students to find their own path and continue to work at it beyond art class despite artistic struggles that may come.

“This festival is about celebrating all art — visual, performing and literary,” Wodjenski said.

“I’m continually amazed at the range of work that comes out of students in K-12.”


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