PAGING PDS: School gallery a value to students, community

Where can you see the artwork from Caldecott-winning illustrators to great artists that live right in your town? The Princeton Day School Anne Reid Art Gallery.

By Chris Henry
   Where can you see the artwork from Caldecott-winning illustrators to great artists that live right in your town? The Princeton Day School Anne Reid Art Gallery.
   From the time it was founded in 1972, there has been a tradition of showcasing a different artist every few months from the school or the community. Through the “Imagine the Possibilities” program, created by Lower School teacher Bev Gallagher in memory of PDS alumnus John D. Wallace, PDS hosts prominent sculptors, poets, and illustrators from around the country.
   Past exhibits have included the work of Caldecott winners David Wiesner, author of “Flotsam,” Steve Jenkins, an artist who has illustrated for The New Yorker, and renowned children’s book illustrator Raúl Colón, among others. The great diversity of the work shown allows students and their wider community (the gallery is open to the public Monday through Friday) to appreciate art forms that they otherwise might not have gotten the chance to see at school or in a museum.
   Another wonderful aspect of the gallery, which I believe is unique to PDS, is that professional artists often share works in progress, or drafts that were discarded or built upon to make the polished final products. Seeing professional artwork develop into what observers usually see allows for an entirely new understanding of the art and the artist, because people can understand how someone gets to that seemingly unattainable level of work.
   This process, the trial–and-error that is so vital in creating any kind of finished product, seems especially prevalent in arts education at PDS, and it is always part of what the art gallery tries to accomplish. Past exhibits that embody this approach include the Steve Jenkin’s exhibit, which included the desk he works at, complete with notes and sketches from past illustrations and campus plans for Princeton University, and David Wiesner’s 2012 exhibit , which featured original sketches of stories he recently published alongside pieces from early in his college years.
   One item in particular from the Wiesner show stood out to me. The cover for Wiesner’s 2006 book “Flotsam” features a macro image of the eye of a red fish, like a camera lens, looking out at you. Displayed leading up to this final were dozens of mock ups, from colorless sketches of schools of fish to no fish at all, moving through brilliant portrayals of the ocean until arriving finally at the published illustration. The idea was clearly expressed that there are many different combinations to try; arriving at one that “clicks” is a matter of trying everything until you get there.
   Other ways we exhibit the process of “trial and error” is with the annual student art show in May, exhibiting works of art students created throughout the year, and the bi-annual faculty art show, showing the work of our art department faculty. It started in 1978, when PDS faculty member Arlene Smith wanted to showcase the work of teachers to inspire students and show them what can be accomplished using the medium they learn in class each day.
   This is always an especially popular exhibit, because people are able to see what the teachers are creating outside of the assignments they invent for school. Also, it’s always refreshing for students to realize that our teachers actually have lives outside of their teaching.
   Another way PDS gets the students more involved in the arts is through the Purchase Award, given annually to a member of the senior class in which the school purchases an artwork of theirs to permanently exhibit at PDS.
   As we continue this culture of “creative process” at PDS, this year with artist Paul Zalinsky as well as with conceptualist and minimalist Adam Welch’s exhibit coming Nov. 25, we invite all of the community to come and continue to grow along with us.
   Chris Henry is a sophomore at Princeton Day School.