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NCHS Exhibits Excellence in the Visual Arts

Hannah Gelnaw's award winning photo 4th of July
Hannah Gelnaw's award winning photo 4th of July

The Scholastic Art & Writing Awards have recognized New Canaan High School junior Hannah Gelnaw as a 2016 National Gold Medal recipient for her photograph entitled 4th of July. Hannah advanced to the National Level after winning a Gold Key and the CAEA Best in Photography Award for 4th of July in the 2016 Connecticut Regional Scholastic Awards. Her exceptional photograph was also well received at the Fairfield Museum and History Center’s IMAGES juried photography show where Hannah was chosen as the Student Grand Prize Winner.

NCHS winning art students and teacher Jeanne McDonagh In addition to Hannah’s prestigious accolades, a number of New Canaan High School students have received recognition for their artwork this school year. From thousands of entries submitted to the 2016 Connecticut Regional Scholastic Art Awards, eleven NCHS students received Honorable Mention, Silver Key, and Gold Key awards. Among the one hundred selected photographic works on view at this year’s New Canaan Society for the Arts 36th Annual Juried Art Exhibition, ten images belonged to NCHS art students and teacher Ms. Jeanne McDonagh. Sacred Heart University’s Teen Visions High School Art Exhibit also included works by ten NCHS students, three receiving First Place Awards.

The study of visual arts is not generally considered to be competitive, but in recent years NCHS student art submissions have been particularly well received by a variety of prestigious competitions and exhibitions. For example, this is the second year in a row that students of NCHS photography and digital arts teacher Jeanne McDonagh have won National Gold Medals from the Scholastic Art & Writing Awards. Judging criteria included innovation and originality, technical skill, and personal vision or voice. Ms. McDonagh was also recognized by The Alliance for Young Artists & Writers who presented her with a medal in recognition of her role as an educator “…who provided support, guidance, and encouragement to the National Medalists…”

Ms. McDonagh considers communication and resources to be key to student success. Jeanne views the NCHS art department as a community of teachers and students within an environment that encourages teacher-as-mentor relationships and students who are comfortable connecting with their teachers.

Jeanne McDonagh is one third of the visual arts faculty at New Canaan High School. Like Jeanne, Jennifer Sinski and Kimanne Core are talented artists and gifted teachers who share their knowledge and love of the visual arts enthusiastically with their students each school day. According to Jeanne, the three art teachers are able to provide individualized attention and conference with students on a daily basis, allowing teachers the opportunity to know their students well and help them develop their own creative voice.

Although we live in a digital world, the visual arts curriculum at New Canaan High School is still based upon teaching the elements of art, design and technique, then expanded by teacher-guided student exploration. Jeanne considers this process to be similar to the process of writing a story. First you must understand the elements and technique before you can successfully communicate your personal vision through your art. Every lesson is an authentic learning experience because students must process and think creatively to make choices and decisions for their assignments. Each lesson builds skills and contributes to a higher order of thinking. Every student does it differently because everyone has a different point of view.

In regard to resources, all three teachers appreciate the cutting edge technology and professional development opportunities available to them. When Jeanne McDonagh first began teaching at New Canaan High School in 1989, photography was film-based and the photo curriculum was based upon mechanics of darkroom technique. Students now learn photographic technique using digital cameras, computers, software, scanners and digital printers. Technology has created a shift from mastery of mechanics to a content-based approach. Students apply techniques they are learning to support their personal creative interpretation.

In order to graduate, all New Canaan High School students are required to complete at least one semester in a class from the Visual & Performing Arts department. Once a year students and their parents have an opportunity to learn about all visual arts course offerings at the Visual Arts Sample Show. On display now in the NCHS Lobby Gallery, the exhibit offers a visual representation of the many course offerings and suggests the academic rigor of each class within the arts curriculum at New Canaan High School. The Sample Show provides a description of each art class from the NCHS Program of Studies along with student created projects from this year’s classes.

Following the Visual Arts Sample Show, the next exhibit in the NCHS Lobby Gallery will be the NCHS 29th Senior Art Exhibition. Opening with a reception on Thursday, April 28, at 5:00 p.m., the Senior Show is an opportunity for community members to view an impressive breadth of student artwork created by members of the Class of 2016. The high caliber of student art on display in a variety of media also serves as a tribute to NCHS art department faculty. The Senior Art Exhibition clearly reflects well on the educators who are dedicated to teaching not only technique and process, but also problem solving and communication skills to all NCHS students and not just those who plan to pursue further study in the visual arts.
NCHS Samples Show

Top photo on right:
2016 Connecticut Regional Scholastic Art Award winners from NCHS
(front row left to right) Lauren Weingarten, Elaina Tiller, Hannah Gelnaw, Matthew Depalo (back row left to right) Kimanne Core (teacher), Sara Brindisi, Catherine Doytcheva, Isabela Montano, Samantha Pepe, Anna Lysenko, Jeanne McDonagh (teacher), Jennifer Sinski (teacher).

Middle photo on right:
NCHS teacher Jeanne McDonagh and the medals she has received from The Alliance for Young Artists & Writers in recognition of her role as an educator to The Scholastic Art & Writing Awards National Gold Medal winning students.
Bottom photo on right:
First Place Award Winners in the Sacred Heart University Teen Visions High School Art Exhibit (left to right) Hannah Fox, Jessica Dantas, Jeanne McDonagh, Isabel Pollish.
Bottom photo across page:
NCHS Visual Arts Sample Show