There was no red carpet at the night’s premiere at the Greg Brantman Patrons’ Gallery. Yet there was no mistaking the show’s stars.
Elementary, middle and high school students posed in front of art masterpieces to greet the public. Some grinned shyly. Others had their arms crossed and a “dude, this is cool” look on their faces. Still other kids almost bounced up and down in animated discussions with teachers and mentors.
Intermittent camera flashes illuminated the tiny gallery as family and friends bursting with pride crowded around their young artists at the event earlier this month. Hugs and accolades were offered. Questions flew around the room about the photographs, paintings and sculptures.
The emerging artists from Shawnee Mission North and its feeder schools were being recognized with a full-fledged gallery opening, complete with refreshments, paparazzi and an unmistakable First Fridays-like buzz. More than 40 students were represented in this annual event, which debuted in a remodeled space supported by parents, former students and arts patrons.
The gallery is named for Greg Brantman, a celebrated North arts educator who spent decades connecting with kids to help them uncover and spark creativity through personal expression.
Known as Mr. B., or simply “B,” Brantman set the scene for students to explore and channel their inner creativity in a lively classroom-workshop-studio setting.
Brantman launched the gallery — it was the first of its kind in a Johnson County high school — in August 1975, just five years into his prolific 38-year career. Brantman retired in May 2012, prompting the renaming of the gallery in his honor. It was spruced up and officially dedicated in August 2012.
The Shawnee Mission School District — and North in particular — has always had a robust involvement in the arts. It can be seen in Santa Fe Trail Elementary fifth grader Madison Koller’s mixed media piece; North senior Adam Alexander’s untitled black-and-white photo; and a textured landscape by North junior Molly Roach who used a pastry bag to pipe vivid oil colors onto a canvas.
Madison claims attraction to art since first grade. This month’s premiere was her third time to appear in the emerging artists show and she explained the inspiration behind her “Coat of Arms.”
“This is about my life,” said Madison, describing the art that’s essentially a storyboard of her likes, skills and family divided into four sections, including an unfurled diploma emblazoned with MFA. “Eventually I want to teach art.”
Jane Mallonee, a 37-year arts educator at Santa Fe Trail and Madison’s instructor, marveled at art in the gallery, pointing out students she taught, recognizing their strengths and style.
“Here is 10th-grader Hannah Zehr’s piece, which has great composition,” said Mallonee, smiling broadly as she moved to the next piece, a photograph with a teen cradling an egg. “This is Shelby Sprigg’s fun and quirky work. Her image makes you wonder. Good art always poses a question.”
Arts educators moved through the exhibit content to watch the swirl of excitement around them as they reflected on their chosen careers. Emily Patterson, who spent six years at Westridge Elementary School, and now teaches painting, drawing and ceramics at North. Sarah McKee teaches photography at the school. Both are enthusiastic about the opportunity for students to exhibit creativity.
“Something hanging in the gallery that is original puts art in a different context for students,” says McKee, surveying the gallery’s activity. “Sometimes it’s difficult for them to talk about their art in class. Look at the interaction tonight.”
Mallonee was in deep discussion with a mother-daughter duo, Theresa Clark and 10-year-old Calyn, whose autumn-hued landscape hung in the show. “I’ve taught several generations of students, including these two,” she said. “I’ve even taught some of Calyn’s cousins.”
Gallery director and North instructor Cortney Dougherty, marking her 12th year teaching in the district, said the gallery rotates shows monthly until spring break, when senior art students each get a week to curate their own exhibits.
“Originally I was pre-med at the University of Kansas,” Dougherty said. “But all through high school I loved art and my art teachers. I switched majors and here I am.”
Dougherty said it’s humbling and gratifying when students tell her they want to teach.
“I must be doing a good job,” she laughed, “if they want my job.”
Mallonee stands in the middle of the gallery, misty-eyed at the enthusiasm.
“You teach kids the basics of art, certainly,” she says. “But you also teach that art is a language and help them build on that. It’s the whole idea that a better quality of life is attainable if the arts are part of you.”