Smile Politely

Student art shines at Parkland’s Giertz Gallery

Painting of a Persian rug with red and yellow background and flower shapes; a painting of brown wooden ducks sit on top of the rug.
©Sara Taber, Family of Objects II, Rug Birds, oil on canvas, 2024; Photo by Ryan Boyd-Sharpe

The Giertz Gallery at Parkland College is currently showcasing student artwork through May 4th. The modest gallery space is packed with exquisite art from paintings to pottery, making it a worthy visit for anyone in Champaign-Urbana.

Upon entering the gallery, guests are immediately greeted with works of a variety of subjects and media. To your right colorful semi-impressionist still-life paintings, some capturing objects from their studios in eye-catching compositions and others focusing on plants and natural settings. Sandra Hynd’s Wedding Site is particularly striking with its truly impressionist forest scene. In the same section of the room are gouache portraits so precisely crafted they look digitally generated as well as gorgeous ceramic pieces, multi-media sculptures, and more beautiful oil paintings.

The next section of the gallery is even more diverse in the art it houses. In its center are more multi-media sculptures, including Alan Chan’s tissue paper teddy bear (titled Tears Bear) which is the epitome of nostalgic art, Israel Nguvu’s Black King which appears to combine stylings from traditional African masks with modern Steampunk design, and Eva Pearce-Shields’s appropriately named Popcorn is Life made of popcorn. There is also a trio of impeccably made plaster sculptures, each playing with different forms of equally refined shapes and smoothed surfaces. 

Five paintings are hanging on a white wall. They include landscapes with pine trees and blue sky; a yellow gravy boar and shell; a black raven's head, an abstract landscape; and pink blossoms on a canvas.
Photo by Ryan Boyd-Sharpe

Next to the plaster sculptures is a case of metal jewelry, all of which are so delicately made that I would expect to see them in an actual jewelry store. This second section also houses more amazing paintings on canvas, all of which center natural scenes and elements, many hyper-realistic miniature oil paintings, and a large array of photographs. I personally love each of the larger paintings in this section. They are incredibly well done and the level of detail in each is extremely impressive. My personal favorites are Sharon Wenda’s Sedona Limb which depicts a desert scene in vibrant, almost surreal color and Melissa Merli’s Purple Prairie. Merli manages to capture a prairie landscape in such detail that the hundreds of flowers in the foreground can be seen individually. Absolutely marvelous. All of the miniature oil paintings are a delight. Each one depicts small objects or a small piece of a larger scene in extreme precision, so much so that I initially thought some of them were photographs. 

The actual photographs are a wonderful mix of landscapes, city scapes, stunning black and white compositions, close-ups, and humorous scenes. Two student photographers whose works I especially enjoyed for their effectiveness in capturing the mood of the spaces they depict are Ciel Bapiste and Ethan Simpson-Palmer. Thankfully, both students have showcased several of their photos.

Image of several black and blue shards of ceramic pieces piled on each other and next to them is a blue ceramic piece.
© Stephen Kaufman, Death Toll, glazed ceramic, 2024; Photo by Ryan Boyd-Sharpe

The most touching and socially relevant work in this section, however, (and in the exhibition as a whole) is Stephen Kaufman’s ceramic sculpture, Death Toll. This work consists of many glazed pieces laid out on top of a black display stand, the right side of which is occupied by a piece in the shape of Israel and the Gaza strip. Israel, which of course takes up most of the land mass, is glazed in light blue while the small Gaza strip has a dark gray finish. To the left of of this piece is a pile of many Gaza-shaped pieces and two Israel-shaped pieces, symbolizing the large disparity in the ratio of Palestinian to Israeli deaths in this violent war. I applaud Kaufman for presenting this work in the show and for the message he conveys through it.

Photo of colorful ceramic teacup set in blue and yellow flowers and red and blue dots.
© Patricia Guthrie, Tea Set, ceramic, 2024; Photo by Ryan Boyd-Sharpe

The third section of the gallery features more still-lifes and observational drawings, each exemplifying great technical skill, as well as several zentangle-esque ink drawings featuring plants and animals within geometric patterns. Section three also houses more ceramics including a beautiful tea set by Patricia Guthrie, small surrealist clay sculptures, and a lovely vase by Jenni Nugent which is decorated in aquatic invertebrates. In a display case next to Nugent’s vase also sits several wire sculptures and a uniquely designed incense burner by Connor Altan.

Last, but certainly not least, is the fourth section at the back of the gallery. This space features some of my favorite paintings in the exhibition, namely Sara Taber’s Family of Objects II: Rug Birds (pictured as the featured image), Beth Chasco’s Illusion Series No. 3 Central Park Swan, and Julie McCleery’s Bull in a China Shop. Each of these paintings, though very different in style, features impeccable use of color and composition design. McCleery’s Lavish Hall in pastels also exemplifies immense technical skill. Additionally, this section contains more still-lifes in charcoal. Each one is very well done, but I give special acclaim to Sophie Morgan, Holly Lewis, Maria Buffo, and Gigi Ralla for their masterful shading. 

Between these drawings and paintings are more sculptures and ceramic works, including another lovely tea cup set by Cassidy McQueen and more great works by Jenni Nugent. This space’s display case also features a new medium of sculpture in two tunnel books by Arden Cusick and Eva Cottrell. Both of these pieces feature scenes in natural landscapes and are visually captivating to say the least.

Every single piece currently in Giertz Gallery is exemplary for craftsmanship and artistic vision. There is so much art to see in this space and I give so much praise to the students whose works are being featured. If you are interested in viewing amazing art, I highly recommend stopping by.

Student Art & Design at Giertz Gallery
Parkland College
2400 W Bradley Ave
April 8-May 4

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