New gallery showcases student work, connection between nature and life

Leslie Cusano

Clean white light shone on oil paintings of disemboweled birds.

Students stood in small groups discussing the pieces on the wall, and the distressed hardwood floors squeaked as they moved from one display to another.

But this wasn’t the Cleveland Museum of Art or the Akron Art Museum. It was downtown Kent at the new School of Art Downtown Gallery.

“People don’t know where they are,” said Anderson Turner, director of Art Galleries for Kent State University. “They can’t believe they’re in Kent.”

The new gallery, located at 141 E. Main St., is showcasing “Domestic, By Nature: A House of Exhibition,” which features the work of four Kent State students and runs until Feb. 2.

Senior art history major Gregory Hatch planned and curated the show, which focuses on the connection between nature and everyday life.

The theme “developed naturally,” said Hatch, who also displayed some of his own work — aprons and pillows with a twist. He said the pillows — which feature nude males in classical poses but with vacuum cleaners and kitchen towels — were inspired by finding the place of masculinity in the home.

“I have a dry sense of humor,” he said. “Besides, art should be fun.”

Jennifer Rentz, senior fashion design major, also displayed work in the show — pot holders and towels embroidered with tiny fetuses. She said her pieces were inspired by the idea of the kitchen as a womb. Though she said the responses to her work have been mixed, that doesn’t bother her.

“I like throwing stuff at people that they’re not used to,” she said.

Bailey Szychowski, senior fine arts major, and Heather Elliott, sophomore art education major, also had work in the show.

Szychowski’s collection, “Coop,” featured oil paintings of birds in the process of being stuffed. She said she wanted to combine nature and the job that pays her bills — taxidermy.

“It’s about preserving an animal’s natural beauty,” she said.

Elliott, whose collection of pieces represented “a deep connection to nature through the basic fundamental elements,” said she was inspired by the idea that humans are “becoming more and more present in nature.”

Senior jewelry major Andrew Beals saw the show and said he liked all of the pieces.

“Most of the art seems pretty surrealistic,” he said. “You don’t expect to see fetuses on pot holders. It’s interesting.”

“Domestic, By Nature” is the third exhibit to show in the gallery, which opened in late October.

Hatch said the new space is a definite improvement over the old space on Water Street.

“The new gallery polishes it up,” he said. “It gives it a more sophisticated feel, and makes people take us seriously.”

Rentz agreed.

“People think going to art school isn’t a professional career, but they see this, and this is how people make money,” she said. “It’s a whole other perspective of the art world.”

In addition to giving the art a more sophisticated feel, Turner said the new space is a good addition to the city.

The gallery will also allow ample room for “lectures, presentations, and other things we couldn’t previously do,” he said.

The School of Art Downtown Gallery also shares some of its space with Black Squirrel Gallery, owned by Bob and Cass Mayfield. However, the Black Squirrel Gallery is not affiliated with Kent’s School of Art.

Turner said to be located on Main Street seemed like an important factor in the move. He added that their increased profile really helped to bring in more foot traffic.

“It was an opportunity we couldn’t pass up,” Turner said.

Contact arts reporter Leslie Cusano at [email protected].