Summit High School’s ‘Between Two Extremes’ exhibit opens virtually
BRECKENRIDGE — Summit High School’s biannual art exhibit put on in tandem with Breckenridge Creative Arts has gone through some changes. The school’s National Art Honor Society council abandoned the exhibition’s theme of Pi Day — a celebration of math held March 14 — and chose to focus on mental health, calling the exhibit “Between Two Extremes.” And when the world ground to a halt due to the coronavirus pandemic, the exhibition went digital instead of being on display at the South Branch Library in Breckenridge.
After the students pivoted from math to mental health, the project then became tied to Hiromi Tango and Craig Walsh’s “Woven Spaces,” which worked with local mental health organizations like Building Hope Summit County for community workshops. Building Hope Executive Director Jennifer McAtamney, BreckCreate Education Manager Greg Bushey and the staff and students at the high school joined forces in various ways.
McAtamney trained visual arts teacher Karen Fischer to be a docent for “Woven Spaces” while her students lent a hand in the crowdsourced textile art. Bushey and McAtamney visited the art society chapter multiple times for presentations as the students honed the mental health messaging of the exhibit. “Between Two Extremes” is the first collaboration of its kind with Building Hope outside of the organization’s own art-related events.
The change in theme proved to be unfortunately relevant this year. Two Summit High School students died by suicide in April. The April 25 opening of the exhibit was pushed back a week to May, which is Mental Health Awareness Month.
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“The tragic events in our community shine a light even brighter on why it’s so important for us to take care of our mental health and each other,” McAtamney said.
“Mental health is just health,” she said. “We take really good care and talk about our knees all the time in Summit County, and we just want to see people moving to the same kind of honesty and dialogue about their brains and their feelings. When you reduce stigma, it’s easier for people to get help.”
Anxiety and depression is nothing new in the isolated community of Summit County, and like other facets of life, they are exasperated by the coronavirus pandemic. In light of the partnership, Building Hope has a pledge linked in the online exhibit that people can fill out and vow to improve their mental health.
It was difficult to get all of the desired pieces into the new virtual format since some works were locked away at school because of the shutdown. Therefore, the gallery also includes new works the students made at home that reflect current events. For instance Amelia Carleton filled in a coloring page — a trendy activity with people being stuck at home — while Ella Eland painted a woman wearing a mask.
“The topic of mental health and wellness is more relevant now than ever,” Fischer said. “Seeing it through the students eyes is I think really interesting, exciting and sometimes heartbreaking.”
‘The Poison Girl’
Sophomore Maggie Butler originally didn’t consider entering her work into the exhibit. She created her painting, “The Poison Girl,” for an English class while they studied the dark romanticism genre. It is based on the story “Rappaccini’s Daughter” by Nathanial Hawthorne, which tells how a young woman becomes poisonous by tending to her father’s poisonous plants. A suitor seeks to cure her, but the antidote ends up killing her.
“The story is a metaphor about if something has poisoned a person, the only true antidote for it is death,” Butler said. “But through the entire story, I was just very upset with how Beatrice was treated as a character. … She had no autonomy in the story.”
What: ‘Between Two Extremes’
When: On display through Sept. 1
Butler is different than most artists in that she has aphantasia, meaning she can’t mentally visualize images.
“The way I would describe it is that I’m in a dark room that’s completely black, and there’s a movie playing next door,” Butler said. “I know exactly what is happening in that movie without even trying. I can hear things that’s going on in the movie, and it’s as if someone describes to me every scene as it occurs. But I just can’t see what’s going on.”
Because of this, Butler is heavily influenced by literature and enjoys drawing characters that either she has made up or ones from books and movies to supplement the story. She grew up fascinated with illustrations like the ones Garth Williams did for “Stuart Little” and “Charlotte’s Web” alongside comics such as “Calvin and Hobbes” and “Pogo.”
“I did it with watercolors, and I wanted to make it so she’s accepting the world around her, both the poison and the life in her and around,” Butler said. “But it’s still hanging over her and still harming her in the end. She never made a choice.”
Since death isn’t an acceptable cure, the story can be translated to addressing the stigma of mental health and proper treatment. Like the exhibit itself, it gained new meaning with current events.
“I’ve been very fortunate enough in the past couple weeks to be receiving sufficient help,” Butler said. “The worst thing that’ll happen is I forget to take my medication. But I still see my therapist online. … It’s really scary seeing people I knew, people who were nice to me, who talked to me in class, that they didn’t get the help that they needed.”
Capturing another important topic is freshman Leif Anderson and his piece, “Space Invasion.” The work of ink and paint depicts a bonsai tree growing over and enveloping the planet. Anderson said with the rise in pollution, nature is becoming more alien to society.
“I enjoy creating art because it is an alternative to writing or speaking; one piece of artwork can portray a message that is difficult to speak about,” Anderson said.
The 14-year-old sees art more as a hobby as he wants to pursue a career in veterinary medicine, but Fischer told him to submit the piece to the exhibit. He likes drawing and painting because he sees it as a freeing way to relieve stress.
“When making a piece of artwork, there are no rules, and I can feel free to draw whatever I want with no limitations,” he said.
The high school and BreckCreate also have recently released the third volume of the annual literary and arts publication, “Imagine.” Though separate from “Between Two Extremes,” “Imagine III” includes many of the same visual pieces and was delayed to include coronavirus-related works. Additionally, it includes various poems and short stories, and it was graphically designed by student Abby Daugherty.
The partnership began when Sonya Dalrymple taught a writing class at BreckCreate the same time Fischer did an art class. Dalrymple sees the magazine as an opportunity for children to be published and inspire other young impressionable minds that it isn’t an unattainable goal.
“I always wanted kids to know that they had a purpose for their writing that’s bigger than a school assignment that only their teacher sees,” Dalrymple said.
It is currently accessible online at Issuu.com/breckcreate, but a physical version is planned to print on Amazon in the coming months with copies eventually available throughout the county. In the fall, Dalrymple hopes the students will be able to sign books at events like they’ve done in the past, though the details have yet to be determined. Proceeds from sales will be donated to Building Hope.
Regardless of how the works reach an audience, McAtamney, Fischer and students like Butler understand that the simplest acts of reaching out can make a difference in people’s lives.
“It’s difficult sometimes for everybody to feel recognized and feel seen, and I think in someway this is very much an exhibition of, no matter who you are and no matter how you feel about the world and connect with it, you are seen,” Butler said.
“You are heard. You matter.”
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