Students at Mount Pleasant High take possession of gallery wall

When the Cabarrus Art Guild moved into its new digs on Union Street South in November 2013, the long, narrow hall leading into what would become the spacious gallery and gift shop was the first space claimed.

“That wall is for schools,” said guild board member Jennie Tomlinson. “We set that aside for Cabarrus County schools, just because there’s very few places that the kids have to show their art.”

Now the guild’s task is to spread the word. Few schools have taken the opportunity to take over the wall. Tomlinson believes it’s because, in part, many art teachers don’t know it’s available to them.

Only two schools have put up exhibitions at the Union Street Gallery & Gift Shop so far.

A.L. Brown High School students showed their work last year. This month, around 30 Mount Pleasant High School art students have taken possession of the wall with a 66-piece exhibit ranging from charcoal sketches to line drawings. It will stay up until the end of February.

“It’s a great opportunity,” said Mount Pleasant art teacher Johnna Ritchie. “I think it makes it really motivating for students. They get really excited for other people to see their work.”

It’s also a chance for the community to see the budding talent taking hold in its own backyard.

“Don’t you love the light in her eyes?” said Tomlinson, admiring a self-portrait by Mount Pleasant senior Jazmin Williams. In the charcoal drawing, Williams’ bright eyes dance with whatever they’re looking at out of view.

“This is charcoal, and charcoal is not that easy to handle. This drawing is very, very upscale,” Tomlinson said.

The opportunity also gives young artists a chance to mingle and talk craft with their seasoned counterparts.

“At first, I was just using white chalk, and then as time went on I started adding black charcoal with it,” said Williams, 18, explaining her evolving technique.

“And I use my fingers instead of a blender. I like the texture my fingers gave to the paper.”

Art education budgets have been thin in the public school systems during the past decade. So guild members took measures to ease some of the expenses associated with displaying art for their high school peers.

Thin, long shelves line each side of the hall so students can display their pieces, even if they’re not matted or framed.

“It’s a great experience for young artists to know how to work a gallery, and to be able to hang their work,” Tomlinson said. She added that the gallery also encourages receptions during exhibitions’ debuts.

Art Guild membership has tripled in recent years. It has 48 dues-paying members on its roster. Dues are between $25 and $35 per year. The guild also offers special programs every month that are open to the public.

“Art is very important to the community, and community outreach is extremely important, too,” Tomlinson said. “We’re not here to make money. We are here to promote artists and present art to the community.”

That includes earmarking wall space to showcase the work of school-age artists.

“We really encourage it,” Tomlinson said, glancing at the work along the hall. “That’s what it’s for.”