BROCKWAY — Melanie Oknefski’s art classroom at Brockway Area Junior-Senior High School buzzed with activity and excitement recently.
After school, Oknefski planned to transport these original works of art to the Winkler Gallery of Fine Arts in DuBois to kick off the gallery’s student showcase.
Art work from Brockway will be on display in the Winkler Gallery of Fine Art’s Education Center Showcase on Brady Street in DuBois through Feb. 17.
Students anxiously filled out paperwork, squeezed art into frames, and made finishing touches to artwork that anyone visiting the fine arts gallery could see and even purchase.
Morgan Rendos, a senior at Brockway, had finished a black-and-white landscape and tried it out in a frame to make sure it got the right fit. Junior Logan Bauer’s metal armor gauntlet perched in a shadowbox while Oknefski determined the best way to display it. Overlooking the bustle was a portrait sketched by senior Kira Fry.
Oknefski and Perry Winkler discussed the possibility of having Brockway start the student showcases, but when working with a student population, participation is not always a guarantee.
“I knew I would start this showcase with Brockway because I’m always impressed with what Melanie’s students produce,” Winkler said. “I told her what I needed, and she said it might be hard to get students interested. She called me back the next day and said she had a lot of interest in the show!”
To get the show ready for a January start time, Winkler and Oknefski had students working for a couple of months on artwork. That presented a challenge that many art teachers have to deal with in their own classes.
“A lot goes into making a show like this happen,” Oknefski said. “But the biggest challenge is getting kids to commit to doing the show, follow through with the work, and actually submit artwork!”
Commitment and follow through turned out not to be a problem. Students worked hard to get the work done. Winkler had an added bonus to working with Brockway as the first show: the frames are also original works.
Kyle Norman’s shop classes at Brockway volunteered to make frames for the artwork out of the wood they work with in the shop.
“While the artists were working on their submissions, we also had to get sizes of the pieces to Mr. Norman with enough time to make quality frames!” Oknefski said. “The students had to commit to a size and they could not change it once they started working.”
“It’s exciting to see that the shop classes made the frames,” Winkler added. “These frames show how the whole school got involved in this process.”
The Winkler Gallery show looked for noncontroversial, family-friendly pieces, which were done in any manner. The open-ended media requirements meant that the Brockway showcase has pencil art, watercolors, block print, 3D metalwork, pottery, and more in both full color and black and white.
“We have a nice range of expression in these subjects,” Winkler said. “These students have a lot to say. The variety of work is impressive, and Brockway has a remarkable body of work for halfway through the school year.”
Winkler is a master of watercolors, and his work is, of course, on display at his gallery in DuBois as well as in North Carolina and elsewhere in the country. He is a working artist, frequently doing shows and experiencing critiques from fellow artists and the general public. He is a two-time Biltmore Estate Wine Label Contest Winner. In his career, he has learned a lot about the fear of putting art on display, and hopes to pass his experience on to budding artists in the Tri-County Area.
“It is a vulnerable, frightening experience,” Winkler said. “But you learn to be resilient. You need to be true to your vision and who you are. Not everyone will like every aspect of your art. It’s funny – art is not all about if a piece is technically accurate. It’s about the expression in that art.”
When studying the Brockway art to determine how to display it, a particular expression stood out to Winkler.
“If I had to give all of these works a one-word title, I would say ‘Sensitive,’” he said. “These are all sensitive pieces. Take that portrait” – he indicated Fry’s piece – “it’s not a photo. It’s an expression of what the artist senses in that photo. That black-and-white landscape” – he gestured toward Rendos’ piece – “is a moment out of time, but it’s edgy, maybe a little dark.”
Winkler praised each piece of art as he discussed it. He concluded, “I hope people don’t visit this showcase and just take the work at face value. I hope they look deeply. I hope they daydream a little. There is so much more in this art that what you see at first. Good artwork can express different things to different people.”
Oknefski also enjoyed seeing her students find that deeper meaning in their artwork. While Winkler gets the opportunity to enjoy the finished product and study the intricate details of the final composition, Oknefski got to see the whole process.
“I enjoy when students doubt themselves at first, but when they finish, they step back, look at it, and say, ‘That turned out better than I thought it would,’” Oknefski said. “They all had the opportunity to shine.”
Visitors to the Winkler Gallery of Fine Arts can view Brockway’s showcase until Feb. 17.