As the winter days grow darker in mid-December, the main gallery in the Ponzio Arts Center glows like a festive holiday lantern with the opening of the annual Pre-K–Grade 8 Art Showcase, a vibrant celebration that highlights the creative efforts of all 600 or so students in Colorado Academy’s Lower and Middle Schools. This year’s show, running from December 11 through January 16, shines brightly with its selection of paintings, drawings, photographs, ceramics, videos, and installations.
“The Showcase always pulls you in,” says Director of Visual and Performing Arts Katy Wood Hills.
The timing, she notes, situates the show right after CA’s visiting artist residency; this fall, Denver muralist, painter, and illustrator Jahna Rae’s bold portraits graced the walls of Ponzio’s gallery, perfectly setting the stage for the student work to follow. “What I love about this show year after year is how our artists get to honor their craft and all the work that they do. It’s a really big deal for them and their family members to see their creations up on the same gallery walls where a professional artist just exhibited.”
The 2023 Showcase is titled “Make Your Mark,” an exhortation inspired by the Peter H. Reynolds book The Dot, which is a perennial favorite throughout the Lower School. Just as in Reynolds’ story, the sprawling show in Ponzio celebrates all the ways CA’s young artists learn to face a blank canvas, page, or lump of clay and bravely take a risk, making their artistic mark.
“Perseverance is key,” says Hills. “As a department, over the past several years we have really emphasized artistic habits—those skills, techniques, and attitudes that allow students to make something out of nothing.” These habits of mind encompass concepts such as developing craft, observing, reflecting, and working with others, and they are the secret to helping young artists produce work they can be proud of, Hills argues.
There is certainly much for the creators to be proud of among the artworks featured in “Make Your Mark.”
As they enter Ponzio, visitors are struck by the vivid fluorescent hues emanating from a blacklight-illuminated mini-gallery, where wild animals created by First and Second Graders congregate. The students took their inspiration from rainforest research as well as Mexican painter Frida Kahlo’s “Animalitos.”
According to Lower School art teacher Elizabeth Delap, “I really wanted to allow my students to experiment with different media such as oil pastels and paint; with the blacklight, they could get a whole different perspective on what they were creating. Many practicing artists today are integrating light into their work.”
Delap’s Lower School artists were also the driving force behind a unique three-dimensional installation in the center of the main gallery: a giant obstacle course for paper airplanes. The piece, she says, came about spontaneously as three collaborators wondered what they might create. “They knew they wanted to make paper airplanes,” Delap relates, “but I always like to ask my students to think bigger.” She guided the artists through the steps of a rigorous creative process that asked them to sketch out their idea, evaluate different materials, document their project’s evolution, and overcome construction challenges.
Fellow Lower School art teacher Jorge Muñoz explains that he asked his own students to practice patience throughout one of their biggest projects of the fall. Large mosaics featuring hundreds of hand-cut paper facets, he says, provided an opportunity for his Fourth Grade artists to research mosaic designs around the world and consider the techniques and strategies that could be used most effectively in figurative and abstract works.
Muñoz’s Fifth Graders received a different assignment: creating a work of art to send a message about an important global issue. His students’ projects illustrate concerns ranging from ocean pollution to gender equality, and each represents “a call to action about something that’s important to them.”
Elsewhere in the gallery, the moody digital prints of photography teacher Karen Donald’s Middle School students offer a strong contrast to some of the colorful creations of younger artists. Her Seventh and Eighth Grade photographers wanted to focus on post-production of their images, she says, so she challenged them to imagine how they could break the mold of the typical self-portrait or tap into dream-like images to alter a landscape.
“My students loved working with their photos on the computer and focusing on the imaginative aspects of their art,” relates Donald.
For Middle School ceramics teacher Becci Marzonie, imagination comes to life through hand-built clay pieces. Coil pots, always a favorite of her Seventh and Eighth Graders, take new forms as students translate their vision through clay and glazes. “The coil pots are really their chance to build something on a larger scale,” Marzonie explains.
But don’t forget, she continues, that clay is supposed to be fun, too. Her ceramicists created their own “Chia Pets,” the iconic seed planters that dominated kids’ television advertising in the 1980s. The students’ mug and pinch pot sets also encouraged free-rein creativity. “They may not realize it,” explains Marzonie, “but all the while they’re learning the building techniques that they’ll use when they move on to the next level of the ceramics program in the Upper School.”
Throughout this Art Showcase’s run—and especially on Grandparents & Special Friends Day, when students lead their proudest supporters to Ponzio to see their achievements—the collected works of CA’s Pre-K through Eighth Grade students will continue to glow throughout the gallery’s wall of windows, illuminating the rest of campus with their own special light.