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Haddonfield artists in limelight

The talent of graduating seniors is on display in a mixed-media show at the Markeim Art Center.

Nobody seemed to be suffering from the post-lunch/almost dismissal time slump in Amy Westerside's expansive studio at Haddonfield Memorial High School.

In fact, Westerside's seniors were in high gear on a recent afternoon as they put the finishing touches on their art projects for an upcoming major debut.

Through June 20, the mixed media artworks of these graduating seniors are on display at the Markeim Art Center in Haddonfield, an opportunity for young artists to bask in the limelight before they leave their high-school years behind.

"This seems to be an idea whose time has come," said Elizabeth H. Madden, the art center's executive director since March 2007. "I was seeing the work of kids 10 and under and mature artists, but high school seemed to be out of the mix."

So Madden and Westerside collaborated on a show focused on the work of the town's high-school students and then narrowed it further to graduating seniors.

"It seemed like an opportunity for a last hurrah," Madden said.

For Westerside, who began teaching at Haddonfield High last September after a varied career as a sculptor, ceramicist and self-employed artist, the idea also resonated.

"These students are so talented, and they deserve to have their works seen," she said. "There will be about 120 pieces in all from 30 seniors, and preparing for the show has been wonderful for them."

Ashley Laganella, 18, who will attend the University of the Arts next year, brought her love of music to her exhibit pieces.

"Some of the pieces I've worked on were pretty labor-intensive," said Laganella, who used all sorts of musical images in her submissions.

Cory Kran, 19, who will be matriculating at Ursinus College, probably as an American Studies major and art minor, admits to a happy obsession with food. Her food characters, such as Mr. Peanut and the Pillsbury Doughboy, have become famous among her classmates.

Her whimsical papier-mache "Hot Dog," using found materials including mustard made from buttons, will be on display at the Markeim Gallery.

For Lindsay Shere, 18, the art-show project has been elemental - specifically, representations of earth, wind and fire. Shere even set fire (safely, of course) to some of the materials she used to drive home the theme. A future Cabrini College student, she looks forward to focusing on graphic design.

Future Brown University student Calvin Main, who has dueling passions, including film and philosophy, loved his senior art class at Haddonfield High. He created his self-portrait by studying himself long and hard in the mirror.

To add more meaning to the class' self-portrait project, Westerside had her students write autobiographies to distill characteristics they might want to include. She also had them create works from disassembled childhood toys and craft other works out of simple blocks of wood, some of which are on display.

Perhaps Erica Johnson, 18, best summed up the ways in which art can affect a high school student's life.

"For me, art is more of a hobby, but also a great joy," said Johnson, who will head to the University of North Carolina in Wilmington in September. "Just being in this class helps me figure out things about my life."

In creating several pieces for the senior show, Johnson feels that her technique improved greatly, and so did her insights. Her self-portrait has a red rose in the foreground and also features petals dropping, as a symbol, she suggests, of how she is shedding certain parts of her life as she matures.

"Art lets you say things you might not say otherwise," Johnson said. "I think that can really be important."

If You Go

The Haddonfield Memorial High School Senior Art Show continues at the Markeim Art Center, Lincoln Avenue and Walnut Street, through June 20. Hours are Tuesday to Friday, 10 a.m. to 3 p.m.; Saturday and Sunday, 1 p.m. to 4 p.m. Admission is free. 856-429-8585.