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Saturday afternoon, a light mist on Bank Street in downtown New London was just persistent enough to present a mosquito-like annoyance factor. The brightly lit Hygienic Art Galleries, though, offered the promise of shelter — along with a welcome and day-glo plethora of pieces from the new "Whalers & Lancers" exhibition.
The seventh annual show features works in a variety of mediums from art students at both Waterford and New London High Schools.
The opening reception took place Friday evening, and A. Vincent Scarano, the president of Hygienic Art, estimated about 500 students, parents and assorted art-enthusiasts attended.
"It was a very diverse and enthusiastic crowd," Scarano said. "You could tell the kids were proud and excited. They should be. There's some wonderful stuff here, and this gives them an actual gallery exhibition experience."
Both of the ground-level rooms in the gallery were full of pieces roughly arranged into sections featuring pottery and sculpture, photographs, and drawings and paintings.
The subject matter varied expansively. There are plenty of land- and seascapes, portraiture, and expressions ranging from abstract to realism. Various pieces seem to reflect themes of autumn — possibly because much of the student work was done in the fall semester.
There are also indications of the influence of popular culture with respective allusions to music such as Deadmau5 and Skillet as well as the television series "Pretty Little Liars."
For most of Saturday, attendance at the show was scarce and void of student artists — which was perhaps not surprising given the large turnout at the reception.
But those who did wander through were impressed by variety of disciplines and the skill level.
Jack Shackles, a pastor at Taftville Congregational Church, was walking in downtown New London and, seeing some of the art through the window, came in to see the exhibition.
"It's always encouraging to see students express themselves, and some of these pieces show a lot of talent," he said. "The technique and perspective, the humor and movement ... it's good stuff. It also helps show you the world through (the students') eyes. I also think it's really nice of the gallery to encourage them and give them space."
Scarano said that's the whole idea. "This is a professional art gallery as opposed to a classroom wall," he said. "Being an artist is like being in a band. You can rehearse in the garage all you want — and you should — but eventually you've got to play that first gig. This show is a gig experience for the students. It gives them that sense of pride, and it gives their families a sense of pride."
There is also the aspect that much of the work on display is for sale. Visitor Bud Bray, a resident of New London who studied the exhibition in leisurely but comprehensive fashion, said he was drawn immediately to an untitled crayon piece by New London High School student Austin Clay — and was dismayed to learn it had already been sold.
"It jumped right out at me from across the room," Bray said. "There's just a spirit about it."
Scarano pointed out that the "for sale" aspect is another valuable part of the experience.
"If you want to be a professional artist, you've got to realize that there is a business side of art as well as the creative side," he said. "That's another great thing about not just this show but how the art departments at these schools operate today. The kids learn about the process of the business and how to price art work even as they learn technique."
"Whalers & Lancers" runs through Jan. 20.