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St. Louis Community College-Wildwood students paint new landscape for local art

If you see a piece of art hanging in West County, specifically in the Wildwood area, stop and look at the tag. The artist may be a friend or even a neighbor.

The local art scene is changing piece by piece thanks to local educators and artists banding together to create over 50 pieces of artwork that currently decorate local restaurants, businesses and galleries around the Wildwood community and beyond.

All that art begins in a brightly lit, canvas-filled room called “Studio 309” at St. Louis Community College-Wildwood.

“It’s where all the magic happens,” Mark Weber, art instructor, club adviser and department chair of Visual and Performing Arts at STLCC-Wildwood, said.

Priming the canvas

Art has been a part of STLCC-Wildwood’s history since the college’s creation, in 2007, as the first “green” campus in Missouri, built with environmentally friendly materials. When Weber transferred from STLCC’s Forest Park campus, the discussion about making STLCC-Wildwood “creative and dynamic” took another turn.

“The idea I came up with was filling all the walls with as much artwork as I can gather from artists in the community and friends,” Weber said. “Some of my pieces are also here. I don’t like staring at blank walls.”

STLCC-Wildwood’s collection includes everything from paintings to sculptures and even photography. All the artwork belongs to the college thanks to trades and donations from Weber’s artist friends and colleagues at other universities, including the University of Missouri-St. Louis, and from former STLCC students. 

“It was our hope to fill [the campus] with artwork and make it an exciting and creative environment,” Weber said.

As much as a decade later, the college is still paving, or painting, the way for new students to break into the local arts scene.

Mixing mediums 

A big part of the effort to bring some of the school’s talented artists to the attention of the community was the creation of the STLCC-Wildwood Fine Arts Club and its Gallery Program.

The program was spearheaded by artist and STLCC-Wildwood student Vicki Hefty to provide local business owners with a simple, affordable and local way to display original works of art and help artists branch out into displaying their works within the community. Hefty is a resident of Wildwood.

Vicki Hefty plans uses time in STLCC’s studio to plan out future art pieces.

The club has anywhere from 50 to 70 works of art on display at the college and in multiple locations around the community. The club’s work can be viewed in galleries at Wildwood City Hall, the Wildwood Hotel, Walnut Grill in Ellisville and Sunny Street Café in Wildwood.

The local club also has artwork on display at Wildwood’s Town Center Starbucks, at Westglen Farms Veterinary Hospital, the office of Dr. Gregory St. John, D.D.S. in Wildwood and the office of Dr. John Costello, M.D. off N. Ballas Road in St. Louis with more to come. The club has had shows at The Willows at Brooking Park and in Rolla, Missouri.

“We kind of travel around,” Hefty said. “Consequently, our work is all over the place.”

The Gallery Program began in 2011. Weber personally worked with businesses to get student artwork displayed in public places and turned the club’s Facebook page into an electronic gallery. Every completed piece is updated to the page, complete with its price should an art lover be interested in its purchase. 

“I put the artwork up with the price, and if I hear back, I put the artist in contact with the prospective buyer,” Weber said. “That way they [the students] can get used to the business side of creating art.”

According to Hefty, one of the biggest perks to the club is acquiring real-world experience in business ventures.

“It teaches [students] how to display their own art, how to deal with lighting and work with mounting specifications, so they don’t have to rely on anyone else to know what to do,” Hefty said.

To keep the galleries fresh, the club rotates its works of art every five to six months. Most local works by club members – regardless of where they are displayed – are for sale.

“One benefit is that they get their artwork out there, and another benefit is that the students are actually making sales,” Weber said. “The college takes no commission, so sales of any of the artwork that we have in venues around here go directly back to the students.”

Painting the bigger picture

Although college classes are seasonal, the art students at STLCC-Wildwood work year-round.

The college has a gallery on the third floor of its art wing that, during the school year, houses a collection of works by local artists; however, during the summer, that space hosts student works from the college’s painting and drawing classes. The gallery is open to the public year-round. 

The summer painting class, including members of the Fine Arts Club, poses at at STLCC-Wildwood in the upstairs gallery.

“It may sound cliché, but it’s wonderful to celebrate our students’ work along with the other professional artists that are here,” Weber said.

The pieces currently present in the STLCC-Wildwood art wing will be going out as part of the club’s next local rotation, along with some pieces that haven’t been on display yet.

“We produce a lot of artwork during our summer class,” Hefty said.

During summer, the studio is filled with students from Painting I, Painting II and Advanced Painting creating varying works of art from abstract expressionist to realism and everywhere in-between.

“It’s a nice range that we have here,” Weber said of the class. “The beginning students can watch these advanced students and artists move from a painting all the way from the beginning to the end. On the other hand, these advanced students really get that reinforcement of those beginning lessons. It doesn’t hurt at all to have that reminder. They help each other all the time. It’s a great dynamic.”

For many Painting I students, the class can serve as a doorway for students who are uncertain about what fields of art they want to explore. Such was the case for Missouri State University student Megan Ellison, whose summer class at STLCC-Wildwood was a way to branch out artistically outside a typical, art college classroom.

“The classes in college are pretty much one age group learning the same thing, but this one is really different,” Ellison said. “I was not expecting our class to be like this. I expected it to be more like our class at Missouri State, where almost everyone is 20-something and learning the same thing.”

Prior to taking the painting class, Ellison said she thought she wanted to do illustrations for publications and magazines.

“I thought the commercial aspect for something like that would be easier than fine art,” Ellison said. “What’s great about working with older or more experienced people is that I didn’t realize that they sell what they paint. I used to just see it as a hobby, but I realized that it would be great to make art for a living.”

Other students, like Amy Zhang of Parkway South High, choose STLCC-Wildwood as a place to gain extra experience and academic guidance.

“I’m taking an AP art class soon and I just wanted to be prepared,” Zhang said. “It’s been really helpful so far.”

[Left to right] Amy Zhang and Megan Ellison work on their canvases in Studio 309.

The studio also is home to more experienced artists looking for a studio setting with the benefit of classmate critique and support from classmates.

“It’s just a wonderful place to work in,” said artist and STLCC-Wildwood student Jo Jasper Dean. “I can work on my art, get fantastic feedback and store it safely until it’s finished. It’s very special.”

Dean, a Chesterfield resident, has participated in juried shows and exhibits across the St. Louis area since 2013. 

According to Weber, the close-knit nature of the class and club is just part of the community college experience.

“We have two words in our name, one is ‘college’ and one is ‘community.’ It’s not just a cliché. It’s a real thing,” Weber said. “Everyone here encourages each other. I remember when I was taking undergraduate classes, I learned so much from the other students in the room. Teachers are great, but I learned so much from those other students. We learn from each other in here all the time.”

Kirkwood resident Judy Ward has been painting most of her life and said the community college environment has not only helped with her career, but also with her artistic pursuits.

“They say, ‘If you don’t use it, you lose it,’ and that’s true of art as well,” Ward said. “I went back to school in the 70s, but I live near the Meramec campus. I took classes there that led me to a whole new career. The whole community college lifestyle is really important to me.”

Judy Ward stands next to a recently completed painting in Studio 309.

Studio 309 resulted in artist Julia Sills going back to school to pursue her passion.

“I’m 75 and I wouldn’t be going back to school if it wasn’t for the community college,” Sills said. “It’s my reason to get up in the morning.”

A growing gallery of success

For those wanting to get more “up close and personal” with local artists from STLCC and beyond, an opportunity is on the horizon.

Art Saint Louis [ASL] recently opened its summer 2018 exhibit, “Menagerie,” presented at Art Saint Louis, 1223 Pine St. in downtown St. Louis. The exhibit is on view through Sept. 13 and is open to everyone.

The multi-media visual art exhibition features 54 artists from across Missouri and Illinois, including pieces from STLCC-Wildwood artists that depicts real or imaginary animals, critters, beasts and other creatures. 

One of those participating is Manchester resident Dion Dion, who is a member of the 2018 summer class and has painted at STLCC-Wildwood for many sessions. Dion previously served as the visual arts chairperson for the Manchester Arts board of directors before becoming an independent art consultant and artist in 2009.

Manchester artist and STLCC – Wildwood student Dion Dion stands with Art Saint Louis member Dominic Finocchio as a featured artist at “Creatures”, a 2016 event by ASL [Event Facebook photo]

“I love to dedicate my time to things [such as the Arts board], but then you never end up having the time to create anything,” Dion said. “So, I went back to creating art.”

Even for those who don’t visit Studio 309 for a class or “Menagerie” to see the works of Dion or her colleagues Hefty and Dean, the “magic” still can be found in the series of paintings, drawings and sculptures scattered all around the community.

STLCC – Wildwood students pose with their paintings, currently on display at Wildwood city Hall [STLCC – Wildwood Fine Arts Club Facebook photo]

“You can make an entire day out of it,” Weber said. “You can go all around the community, maybe have lunch, and see all this local artwork.”

For more information or to view portfolios for STLCC artists, visit stlccfineartsclub.tumblr.com or follow St. Louis Community College-Wildwood Fine Arts Club on Facebook.

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