1928 WU Reveiw
Published : Thu 03/26/20 Updated : Thu 06/09/22 Category : MulvaneBlog

The annual Art Student Exhibition presents an opportunity for the public to experience the remarkable creativity, skill, and intellect of Washburn University art students. The tradition of holding an exhibition of student work at the Mulvane during the latter half of the spring semester, nearing the time of commencement, can be traced back to the 1920s when the museum first opened to the public. This year, due to unprecedented circumstances concerning the COVID-19 pandemic, the exhibition will be exhibited virtually for the first time.  

Since its inception, the Art Student Exhibition has been selective. A 1928 article in the Washburn Review (left) promoting the student exhibit claims that the installation compiled the very best work produced by the 30 or 40 art students that then comprised the art school. The Student Art Exhibition is now a juried show. Each year, a practicing artist or curator is recruited to review and select student artworks for the annual display. This year’s juror is artist Brandi Lee Cooper, Art at the Intersection of Science Artist-in-Residence at the University of Kansas.

Over the years, the art department and participating donors have endowed several prizes to honor students whose artwork is most distinguished. The Charles A. and Margaret W. Pollak Award, established in 1973, is an annual honor bestowed on one or two students from the art department for exemplary dedication to their studies. Recipients accept a monetary prize and the distinguished honor of having one of their works featured in during the student exhibition and accessioned into the Mulvane’s collection. Many Pollak prize winners have gone on to have successful professional art careers.

Representational painter Randall Exon (b. 1956) received the award in both 1976 and 1978. After graduating with a BFA from Washburn, Exon went on to study at the prestigious Skowhegan School of Painting, Skowhegan, ME and earned an MFA in painting from the University of Iowa, Iowa City, IA. His painting, Topeka Scene, 1978, (below) in the Mulvane Art Museum permanent collection remains a favorite of many university staff and museum-goers.

The Mulvane’s Exhibition Coordinator, Michael Allen, received the Pollak Award in the final year of his undergraduate study in 2012. Allen, who has been working at the museum since he was a student, has organized the Art Student Exhibition for the last eight years. Planning and preparation for the exhibition span the entire academic year and entails training workshops for those students admitted into the show.

“The [exhibition] is important because it gives students an opportunity to participate in a juried event. They learn professional skills, like how to submit their works and how to follow a prospectus, actions required by many artists who submit their work for consideration in exhibitions. It is meant to be learning process—an opportunity to participate. Also, because it is a juried exhibition, it provides the art department an assessment of teaching and artistic practice given by an outside expert,” says Allen.

“For me, personally, as a former Washburn art student, who submitted to, and was accepted into, the Art Student Exhibition, it was the first time that I had actually had my artwork displayed in a public space, in a professional setting. That was a big deal for me. Over the years that I have been involved as an employee, I still meet those students who are exhibiting for the first time for the public. That’s a pretty special part of it for me.”

With each year, and each juror, the annual installation is varied in its theme, or lack of theme, and its scope. Consistently, though, there is what art historian and 2019 Art Student Exhibition juror Bill North identified as “a preponderance of painting,” especially detailed realist painting. The quantity and quality of exhibited painting is no less marked this year with works like Yue Li’s accomplished oil painting, Self Unbound, 2019, and Zandra Sneed-Dawkins luminous, candy-colored still life painting, Mason 171, 2019.

Emma Johns’ drypoint Raised a Jayhawk, 2018 and Gabrielle Rollins’ photograph Market Place, 2019 both poetic renderings of place, transport the viewer from downtown Topeka to the River Market in Kansas City. In contrast, Cody Dannar’s gritty photographs capture the uneasy societal reality of urban anywhere. A still life of a more conceptual nature, Darby Rolf’s ceramic sculpture, Not So Tin Can, 2019, demonstrates how assigning a fluid shimmering surface to a mundane everyday object can make the viewer reconsider its formal qualities entirely.

Typically, early April marks the occasion of the public opening for the annual Art Student Exhibition. This brings a jostling crowd of art faculty and students, their families, and members of the community. Although the current COVID-19 pandemic keeps us from gathering this year, we hope you will visit the exhibition virtually in support of Washburn Art Students and the 96-year-old tradition of exceptional student work at the Mulvane Art Museum.

Rebecca Manning
Collections Manager / Registrar
Mulvane Art Museum


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