The COVID-19 pandemic has been difficult for both students and teachers as they transitioned from in-person classes to mostly online instruction. But at least one art teacher found a silver lining.
Tracy Hale, a fine arts and photography teacher at Skaneateles High School, used the isolation and time to herself to work on her art: photography.
“Most of my work is of nature, so many of my walks or exercise outdoors had lead me to slow down and really have the opportunity to see what is around me,” she said. “Instead of just taking time to exercise, I would stop and really take everything in around me. It has made me realize how important creating artwork is to my balance — something I brought back into my classroom this year.”
Two of Hale’s photographs are included in a display of work by teachers of student artists in “Both Ends of the Rainbow,” the current exhibition of student and senior art at the Schweinfurth Art Center in Auburn. This is the first time teacher artwork has been included, and teachers jumped at the chance to display their pieces.
“I love the idea of adding in teachers’ artwork,” said Jessica Rice, who teaches at Herman Avenue Elementary in the Auburn school district. “It is rare that I can show my students and their families what I do as an artist.”
The Schweinfurth’s Gallery Julius is filled with art in a variety of media, including sculpture, paintings, and textiles. Michael Villano, who teaches at Auburn High School, submitted a detailed bust of a young woman that he named “Precious.” Kasha Fletcher, a teacher at Auburn Junior High School, submitted both acrylic paintings of bright flowers and a knitted hat and scarf.
Hale’s photographs stand out for their starkness that invites close inspection. “Push for Change” shows an old, seemingly abandoned pay phone in what could be a trail lean-to made of logs. “Winter Willow” centers on an older free, full of bare branches, fully reflected in water in the foreground.
Chelsea Hamilton, who teaches at Genesee and Owasco elementary schools in Auburn, submitted three detailed graphic design pieces that educate viewers about three of the Adirondack’s high peaks: Algonquin Peak, Mount Haystack, and Mount Marcy. The works combine art and information in an attractive, engrossing way.
She thinks that displaying the artwork of teachers as part of “Both Ends of the Rainbow” is a great idea and appreciates the opportunity.
“I have not been able to create as much art as I would like these past couple of years as my primary focus has been to establish myself as a new teacher in addition to working on my masters” she said. “And then, of course, came the added stress and workload with COVID and the switch to online/hybrid teaching.”
Hamilton said this year has been particularly difficult, because she and other teachers have had to juggle three different groups of students: those who learn in the classroom, those who combined online and in person, and those who remained online only.
Rice added that remote learning has eroded students’ skills. “We as artists learn from each other when we create,” she said. “Skills using our hands were lost as well as building art content from last year, current year, and bridging to the next year. … Art works virtually but it is very, very different.”
Hale stepped back from giving students deadline projects when her students first went online. “I wanted my students to see art as an opportunity for expression,” she said. “So we looked at a bunch of different artists and did a lot of quick abstract work. We also did self-portraits, which were a lot of fun. Many students enjoyed the work and learned to do it when they had some free time to really enjoy creative art.”
In fact, the isolation brought on by the pandemic reminded her why she got into art in the first place. “It gave me the opportunity to create for myself and enjoy sharing the experience with others,” she said. “It’s also a great opportunity to see what other artists have been doing with their time. We do art for ourselves first, then we share our perspectives with others.”
The Schweinfurth Art Center’s programs are made possible by the New York State Council on the Arts with the support of the Gov. Andrew Cuomo and the New York State Legislature.
If you go …
WHAT: Both Ends of the Rainbow exhibition, including a display of teacher art
WHERE: Schweinfurth Art Center, 205 Genesee St., Auburn
WHEN: Through April 3, 2021
HOURS: 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Wednesdays through Saturdays and 1 to 5 p.m. Sundays
RESERVATIONS: Call the Schweinfurth at 315-255-1553 to book a time
VIRTUAL TOUR: To view an online tour of the exhibit, link to schweinfurthartcenter.org/both-ends-of-the-rainbow/