Bicentennial art exchange comes to a close
The three-phase Westlake-Tralee Sister Cities Student Art Exchange entered its final bloom as 120 works of art made by school children from Westlake private and public schools as well as student and young adult work from Westlake’s Sister City, Tralee, County Kerry, Ireland, were showcased in Westlake City Hall for two weeks at the end of September.
Organized by Marge Widmar, the first two phases of the exchange included the Send-Off, where the Westlake collection of works from grades k-12 were packaged and shipped to Tralee. Once in Tralee, these works joined art from Irish students to be exhibited as part of the Feile na mBlath Flower Festival in June at Siamsa Tire Theatre.
The final phase of the months-long exhibit kicked off on Sept. 19 with a reception for the artists, their families, and the community at City Hall. Former Westlaker Brian Bigley, whose family still lives in the city, entertained the crowd by playing the Uilleann (pronounced ILL-in) pipes. Bigley then discussed the traditional Irish instrument, which he has played for nearly 20 years, beginning at age eight.
Following the musical performance, Westlake’s young artists were presented with certificates from Mayor Dennis Clough. The attendees then went into the gallery hall to view the works of art.
It was charming to have such a diverse range of student work in one space. The exhibition was organized with multimedia tools: a video slideshow of the artworks ran on a flat-screen TV, Irish music played, and photographs and biographies of the artists and guest books from each leg of the exhibition were displayed. The Tralee guestbook was richly annotated with praise for the artists and City of Westlake’s generous organization and lending.
I brought my children to the final phase’s opening reception; we met one of the artists and searched the gallery for her work. Each of us then chose our favorites artworks. The highlights for me included a brightly colored acrylic painting of pies on a stark white background. Entitled “Pieces of Pie,” by third-grade Hilliard Elementary student Kari Adkins, the work is crisp and delightfully reminiscent of a Wayne Thiebaud painting.
Another piece that stirred me was a digital photograph manipulated by Westlake High School eleventh-grader Ashley Kay. This photo, “Many Sides of Me,” is comprised of six of the same self-portrait, rotated and overlapped with various images and colors. I applauded the inclusion of this large-scale photograph in the exhibition. It shouted how much we have changed in 200 years.
My children both selected Irish artworks as their favorites. My seven-year-old daughter loved the realism of an acrylic painting of a Leopard by Chloe Flaherty, age 14, from Tralee’s St. Ita’s and St. Joseph’s. My four-year-old son admired a colored drawing of a motorbike by CJ Miller, also 14, from St. Ita’s and St. Joseph’s.
Together, we looked up our chosen artists to see who they were. Despite the opposite sides of the world, my children thought it was cool to see that these kids all enjoy the parks or recreation center in their towns. They like the shops in Tralee, or Crocker Park in Westlake. And they play football, even if we call it soccer. My little girl, always wise beyond her years, decided “Art lets us see we aren’t so different even if you need to take an airplane to meet me.”