Arts and Entertainment

A Vashon exhibit features students' creative self-expression

Jeffrey Zheutlin and Kaia Boonzaier pose with Kaia
Jeffrey Zheutlin and Kaia Boonzaier pose with Kaia's self-portrait.
— image credit: Elizabeth Shepherd

This Friday’s gallery cruise will include a show featuring a collection of self-portraits by Islanders that reflects an astonishing diversity of styles and influence — from Picasso-esque renderings to bold abstract slashes of colors to brooding meditations.

The self-portraits weren’t drawn by professional artists, though — they were created by students in Karen Person’s eighth-grade humanities classroom at McMurry Middle School during a weeklong residency by Island artist Jeffrey Zheutlin.

Zheutlin, who is also the clinical director of Vashon Youth & Family Services, worked with the teenaged students to help them depict in the drawings what he called “the energy beneath the surface” of their outward appearances.

The students also wrote poems to accompany the drawings, creating an art show that will be on display during the month of April at Heron’s Nest, in downtown Vashon. The show has an opening reception this Friday, from 6 to 8 p.m.

For viewers, the show may well serve a powerful reminder about the turbulent tides of the teenage years.

“I think you can definitely see that we are all going through puberty — you can see all the mood shifts in the paintings,” Philip Van Devanter, 14, said with a laugh. “It was a good way to express our raging hormones.”

For the students, the process and final results of the project were both exciting and eye-opening.

“I learned a lot about my classmates — the parts of themselves that they don’t show everyone,” said Maya Krah, 14. “It was cool to see how people think of themselves.”

Theresa Aguilera, 12, said she appreciated having the opportunity to express herself in “emotions and colors and shapes, as opposed to words.”

“When I was doing the painting, my mind was kind of free flowing and connected to my emotions,” added Sean Yeoell, 13. “It all flowed down onto the paper.”

“I think all middle-schoolers should do it — it let us experience ourselves,” Sofia Giuisti, 13, said.

The workshop was made possible through Vashon Artists in the Schools, which is a collaborative partnership between Vashon Allied Arts and the Vashon school district.

It’s not the first time Zheutlin has worked with Person to bring art to the classroom. Over the years, he’s brought the same workshop to McMurray several times, as the culmination of Person’s annual unit on genealogy.

Zheutlin said he is always “stunned and amazed” by the results.

“I love the energy and freedom they are willing to express, and the fun and abandon with which they approach the project,” he said.

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