By Polly Fitz
A family trip to Costa Rica inspired 18-year-old Haley Dawson to paint “Mahi Mahi,” one of three art pieces she has on display as part of the Miller Art Museum’s Salon of Door County High School Art. Dawson’s sister likes fish, so she asked Dawson to paint one of the tropical varieties they had seen on their trip.
Dawson’s art experience goes back to her early childhood when, the Brussels resident said, her dad taught her to draw at home. She has continued her art education by taking art classes during all four years at Southern Door High School. She has most recently been working with acrylic paint, but her coursework has allowed her to experiment with all types of media, from photography to painting to ceramics.
“I like the freeness of it,” she explained. “You can make what you want to make. It takes you to a different place.”
For Southern Door High School art teacher George Ouimette, that’s exactly the point.
“A lot of students take art because it’s a good place to get away,” he said. His hope for Dawson and his other students is that they continue to let art fulfill their lives, even if they don’t pursue it as a career.
“I’m hoping she doesn’t forget to do art when it’s good for her,” he said.
Miller Art Museum Executive Director Elizabeth Meissner-Gigstead echoes Ouimette.
“Art allows us to express who we are as human beings,” she said. “It gives kids an avenue to explore who they are.”
For Sturgeon Bay High School senior Quincy Gibson, that sense of exploration is part of his self-described “free-form” style.
“I like the freedom of being able to move however I can. I’m still trying all different things to give me a sense of who I am as an artist,” Gibson explained.
The 17-year-old has two pieces in the Salon exhibit: a digital photo that he manipulated with a variety of techniques and a detailed pen-and-ink drawing.
What makes the Salon of Door County High School Art exhibit unusual is that art teachers choose the pieces that go into it. This year’s exhibition includes more than 150 pieces by students from all five Door County high schools and Sturgeon Bay’s home-based private-education program.
“There’s a certain amount of freshness that comes with this show,” Meissner-Gigstead noted. “There’s this raw emotion that you see in a high school artist.”
The exhibition can be emotional for the art teachers as well. The voice of Nicole Herbst – Gibson’s art teacher – was full of pride when she described Gibson’s hard work and growth during his four years in her art classes.
“He has a really unique style and a lot of natural ability,” Herbst said. “I started to see a spark to be pushed further, especially this year. He started to find his voice.”
For Gibson, that journey will continue at the Milwaukee Institute of Art and Design, where he has earned a merit scholarship. His plan is to major in illustration and eventually work with the illustration or animation team at a company – somewhere where he can “keep creating and making things.”
The Salon of Door County High School Art at the Miller Art Museum in Sturgeon Bay runs through May 25.