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The art of making art

A short time ago, students at Dallas County High School never imagined spending a portion of their day painting and drawing.

Just the chance to create and study art seemed like a dream, as far away as the moon. So, when a group of students learned their work was selected to hang in an art museum and the state capitol, they could not hide their joy.

“I was all shocked and everything,” Kaneesha Malone said. “I felt like a rock star the rest of the day.”

Malone, along with Rayvon Burrell, Thomas Herrod, Amber Rushing, Kristiana Sasser and Ashley Sparks were selected to participate in the ARTWORKS Corridor exhibition, “Color and Spirit,” at the Montgomery Museum of Fine Arts.

More than 300 entries were narrowed down to 77 spots. Dallas County students comprise 6 of those spots.

“There’s a lot of talented young people in this school,” art teacher Jo Taylor said.

Dallas County High School created its art program a little more than one year ago. Students were immediately drawn to the program. Taylor sees students become more confident each day through the creation and study of art.

“They love to be creative,” Taylor said. “When they see something they imagined come to life, oh yeah, it’s cool.”

Malone, Burrell, Herrod, Rushing, Sasser and Sparks’ artworks compliment “Ancestry and Innovation: African-American Art from the American Folk Museum,” a folk-art exhibition in the museum.

Students will attend an opening at 6 p.m., Thursday and their art will hang in the museum from Feb. 12 to May 10.

Not only did students create folk art in Taylor’s class, they studied work by artists such as Thornton Dial, Nellie Mae Rowe and Clementine Hunter.

“In folk art, they use different things,” Sparks said. “Salvaged pieces, all kinds of things.”

Sparks painted and created a collage with various items on an old piece of cardboard about Selma. Her classmates painted portraits of family members and aging, plantation houses, among other subjects.

“I like to put my imagination on paper,” Edward Middlebrooks said.

Middlebrooks, along with Mary Singleton, Katie Bain, Ramon Burrell, Ladarious Richardson, Devin Myracle, Bryan McAfee and Kenan Sanders were selected to participate in the 2009 State Superintendent’s Visual Arts Exhibit. Their artwork will hang in the Old Supreme Court Library of the Alabama State Capitol from Feb. 9 to Feb. 20.

The students are anxious to see their art hanging next to works by students from across the state.

“You get to express yourself,” Ramon said. “And you get to see how other people think, how they feel.”

Ramon painted a largemouth bass. Other students painted mountain landscapes and a country still life. Whether their inspiration was pulled from deep inside their head, like Middlebrooks’ plantation house, or from a photograph, like Myracle’s gatepost and fence, the students just appreciate the chance to express themselves. For these students, a stroke of a paintbrush says it all.

“It allows me to draw what I’m feeling at the time,” McAfee said.

The afternoon sun slanted into the dusty room where Rayvon Burrell sat panting a watercolor landscape. He was lost in the transition of the image in his head to a large, square piece of paper. For Rayvon, it is even simpler than the primary colors he paints with.

“I just like it,” he said as he moved the brush back and forth on the page.