Emerging talents: Two shows highlight the work of teen artists

THE WEDGE — With the Internet and a book on printing as her only guides, Emma Kullberg set out to teach herself screen-printing while still a high school student.

Determined to learn a photographic screen-printing technique, Kullberg commandeered a space in the Southwest High School darkroom and jury-rigged a floodlight to expose her images.

Things didn’t go well.

"[The light] actually caught fire and smoke filled the halls," she said.

You know how things go in high school: For the rest of the year, Kullberg was the girl who started a fire in the darkroom. But she’s come a long way since then.

Last spring, Kullberg and three other teens participated in the inaugural session of Highpoint Center for Printmaking’s ACCESS/PRINT Project, a mentorship program for young artists in grades 10–12. Work from that session, as well a second session in fall 2008, is now on display in Highpoint’s gallery.

Highpoint regularly offers printmaking workshops for students and community members, but ACCESS/PRINT was a unique experience for the eight high school students who participated.

Not many high schools have the resources to offer instruction in the full range of printing techniques. But at Highpoint, the students in ACCESS/PRINT spent weeks developing their skills in relief, intaglio, monoprint and screen-printing.

Then, Highpoint Education and Community Programs Coordinator Elizabeth Flinsch said, they basically set the kids loose.

"This was a moment that I think in the lives of high school students is pretty rare, where they’re not given an assignment," Flinsch said. "… I encouraged folks to really think big."

Kullberg was thinking about infamous 1978 mass suicide at the Jonestown settlement, an event that has occupied a dark corner of her imagination ever since she saw the Guthrie Theater production of "The People’s Temple" several years ago.

She spent a lot of time doing research — more than for any art piece she had produced — and focused on the relationships and personalities that drove Jim Jones’ cult. For the exhibition, she produced two large screen-prints that incorporated photographs and news coverage from the aftermath.

After spending hours at Highpoint after school and on weekends, Kullberg started thinking differently about her post-high school plans.

She had enrolled at the College of Visual Arts in St. Paul this fall, intending to study photography, a passion she developed in high school. Now, though, she plans to study printmaking.

Flinsch said Highpoint would not offer ACCESS/PRINT this spring, when the studio and gallery will be in the middle of a move to its new Lake Street location. But, based on its initial success, they plan to bring back the project in fall 2009.

"There are so many teens and students around who want something more deeply engaging than a just a two-hour session," Flinsch said.

Highpoint isn’t the only place to see the work of talented teens this month. The best artwork from the 2008–2009 Minnesota Scholastic Art Awards is on display at the Minneapolis College of Art and Design (MCAD) through mid-February.

The annual competition selects the best works in 14 visual arts categories to advance to a national competition in New York. This year’s award winners include dozens of middle and high school students from schools across the state, including Southwest High School and The Blake School in Southwest.

Winning the Gold Key Award, the competition’s top prize, can be a major boost for a young artist. MCAD Communications Director Kim Zimmerman knows this from experience; as a high school senior, she won a Gold Key Award for her photography portfolio.

By the time Zimmerman saw her work hanging in the MCAD gallery, she knew it wasn’t just understood, but also truly appreciated.

"That’s huge, especially in high school when you’re in your awkward teen years," she said. "… It meant absolutely everything to me."

For Zimmerman, her memories of that Gold Key day are never far off. "It’s weird," she said. "Now, I’m sitting here in an office that looks out on the gallery" where her work once hung.

Go see it
The ACCESS/PRINT Project Teen Artists Exhibition runs through Jan. 31 at Highpoint Center for Printmaking, 2638 Lyndale Ave. S. 871-1326. www.highpointprintmaking.org/

The Minnesota Scholastic Art Awards Exhibition runs through Feb. 22 in the concourse gallery at Minneapolis College of Art and Design, 2501 Stevens Ave. S. 874-3700. www.mcad.edu/