- Associated Press - Sunday, September 13, 2020

DECATUR, Ala. (AP) - From a painting of outer space, where the man in the moon wears a monocle and a top hat, to a sculpture of a sandhill crane flying over a swamp, works at the Alabama Center for the Arts offer viewers an escape from the reality of everyday life.

Dubbed “The show that almost wasn’t” due to the coronavirus, the annual Calhoun Student Art Show, which opened at the Alabama Center for the Arts last week, five months after the original date, celebrates the paintings, photographs, illustrations, drawings and sculptures of Calhoun Community College students.

“Not only art students, but we all need a way to defuse anxiety and stress during our COVID-19 interrupted society. Art is the means for many people to lose themselves in the active pursuit of joy,” Calhoun Community College art professor Kathryn Vaughn said.

While the option of a virtual exhibit existed, Vaughn pushed to delay the show in order to host an in-person event.

“A gallery experience embodies real scale, texture, detail, reverence and immersion. The viewer is in the presence of art. The artist is validated by their art,” Vaughn said.

The works take viewers to Hartselle’s Main Street with hydrangeas in bloom, to a frozen pond at the Wheeler National Wildlife Refuge Center where sandhill cranes stand, to a field of cotton in north Alabama and to a turtle nesting beach.

Along with pieces celebrating nature, the exhibit showcases portraits, abstract works and whimsical designs.

In “Fruit Loops,” artist Adaley Schmuck plays on the popular children’s cereal with a graphite drawing of a boy’s head filled with milk and colorful rings. In his works, “Kim Chi” and “Sasha Velour,” Manuel Contreras experiments with bold colors and patterns in portraits of drag queens.

The 40-piece exhibit features artwork from Schmuck, Contreras, Alissa Benford, Mackenzie Staggs, Erin Gonzalez, Jackie Segars, Karen Wallace, Jansen Turrentine, Nicolette Pruitt, Sallie Estes, Jane Vaughan, Karen Wallace, Gary Walker, Judy Baggett, Kim Pourcho, Esther Franks and Joe E. Thompson.

The artists range from college-age students, such as Staggs, who attended Calhoun to further a career in art and moved to Milwaukee in June to study illustration at the Milwaukee Institute of Art and Design, to retirees, such as Thompson, who started taking art classes as a creative outlet.

“They have some really great classes at Calhoun for older people,” said Thompson, a former engineer, translator and international banker, who enrolled in Calhoun’s art classes in 2017. “You only have to pay half the tuition. I take an independent studies class, so you can do whatever you want watercolor, pastels, pencil drawings, oils or sculpture.”

A closing awards reception honoring the artists in the exhibit will take place Sept. 17 at noon and is open to the public. The Alabama Center for the Arts’ gallery space at 133 Second Ave. N.E. is open Monday to Thursday, 8 a.m. to 7 p.m., and Friday, 8 to 11 a.m. Admission is free.

Next, the Alabama Center for the Arts will showcase works by students connected with the downtown Decatur school. The center is accepting submissions for the “ACA Emerging Artists Exhibit” through Tuesday. The juried show will feature pieces by current students and students who graduated in the last two years. The exhibit will be Sept. 24 to Oct. 26. Information on submitting a piece is available by emailing info@alabamacenterforthearts.org or in the ACA lobby.

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