Stifel Gives Art Students A Cutting Edge

Artist Rick Morgan said he was in college before he learned how to cut a mat properly in order to display his artwork in a professional manner. Now the director of the Oglebay Institute Stifel Fine Arts Center, Morgan is in a position to teach local high school students not only how to cut mats but also to cut glass and frame their work, all through a grant made possible by the Elizabeth Stifel Kline Foundation.

Those students then have the opportunity to enter their work in the 27th annual Regional Student Art Exhibition at the Stifel Center, which will take place this year from Jan. 14-Feb. 26.

Known as Art Preparation Workshops, the free classes for high school students have been taking place for about four years.

“Not every family or school has the ability or the funds to professionally mat their work,” Morgan explained, so he and director of art education Brad Johnson sought funding from the foundation to purchase the professional equipment and offer the classes.

Lisa Marple, art teacher at Union Local High School in Morristown, said the classes are invaluable.

“I encourage my students to enter as many shows as they possibly can to promote the arts, but the OI show offers us a great opportunity through their Elizabeth Stifel Kline grant” because it allows the students’ artwork “to look their best,” she said. Two of Marple’s students have taken the best of show prize at the past two Stifel exhibitions.

Not only does the show offer best of show bragging rights, cash prizes and ribbons for first, second and third place in four categories, but since 2011, it also has attracted the West Virginia University art school, which has awarded scholarships to graduating seniors whose work is promising. West Liberty University also offers partial scholarships.

The first recipient of the WVU scholarship in 2011, Union Local’s Jenna Britton, graduated from?WVU in May with degrees in graphic design and advertising. She landed internships in Columbus, Pittsburgh and even China, and now works full time for an advertising agency in Morgantown.

“This (show) was a springboard to college and now her career,” said her mother, Lisa Britton of Flushing.

Starting last year and continuing this year, the university has upped the ante on the scholarship, offering a full, four-year ride to one artist from the exhibition. Seniors exhibiting work who are interested in going to college to study art are eligible.

“It’s a great way for me to find talent from around the region,” said Alison Helm, director of the WVU School of Art and Design, who attends the show on opening day and handpicks the scholarship winner.

“I’m thankful for the Stifel Fine Arts Center for doing the work of getting this together. We’re really thrilled about that. That takes a lot of effort and a lot of resources,” Helm said.

High school art students within 50 miles of Wheeling – whether they are in an art class at school, are homeschooled or just doing art on their own – are invited to submit up to three pieces for the show. They don’t have to go through an art teacher to enter, Morgan said, or to take the art prep workshop. There is a nominal entry fee for each piece entered, but that fee is waived if the student attends the matting workshop.

Johnson said categories include photography, painting, drawing and three-dimensional. The deadline for submissions is Jan. 8, so Morgan said now is the time they should be getting them finished.

The 2015 exhibit showcased a record 206 entries from 122 students. The numbers keep increasing, Morgan said, as the caliber of artwork improves and the professionalism of the displays increases.

“We want to get it to where this becomes the premier exhibit for high school. That’s the ultimate goal,” Morgan said.

He and Johnson agreed the matting workshops have elevated the quality of the exhibit, and this year they are taking it a step further.

The first 100 students who enter 9-inch by 12-inch or 12-inch by 18-inch canvases also will have free frames made available to them.

“It’s always great to see these kids display their work at this level for the first time. There is a real sense of achievement and a realization that, ‘Hey, I can do this,'” Johnson said. “But, at the same time, this exhibition is going to end. The skills they gain and the resources they have access to as they prepare for this exhibit will serve them well in the future.”

“We truly appreciate the helpful staff at Stifel to make it what fun for the kids and special,” Marple said.

For more information on the Regional Student Art Exhibition or the free Art Preparation Workshops, call the Stifel Center, 304-242-7700.

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