At Oregon High School’s art gallery, Gwen Maitzen displayed 54 framed sticky notes on the south facing wall.
Each was decorated with a different creation, like a life-like basketball player, drawings of winter birch trees or a written statement, “expectant space,” — a nod to the silent spaces of art, similar to the silence in musical composition, she said, when no one plays but are essential to the art.
On Friday, Jan. 30, Maitzen, a former long-time OHS art teacher, held her exhibition opening at the school. She, like other community artists, display their work at the gallery, which has floor to ceiling windows and 640 feet of display space.
The gallery is in its second season and invites faculty, students and community to exhibit — a permanent space dedicated to the visual arts.
For 25 years, OHS art teacher Mike Derrick has been waiting for a space for his students to display their work they create in his classroom. With the exception of businesses that open up their doors to artists, there is really no other gallery space in Oregon, he said.
For most of his career, students displayed in the school’s Performing Arts Center, using Styrofoam boards and temporary displays.
Maitzen organizes her artistic creations into themes, she said. The sticky-note exhibit, which has 120 framed pieces, and the pencil sketches of students and watercolor bird calendar were displayed in the gallery for roughly a month. She said she enjoys drawing people in a single moment, when they are caught in time.
Maitzen was on the school board for three years, and pushed for a gallery at the high school.
“We were the only district in the Badger Conference that didn’t have a visual art space,” she said.
Derrick said the art department is proud of how far the gallery has come. He said students in shop classes helped build some of the display mounts, and OHS alumni donate permanent pieces like the 5-foot by, 6-foot dinosaur, so the gallery is never bare.
The first exhibition was held there in September 2018. The majority of the art teachers in the district displayed their work, including ceramics, drawings and watercolors.
Another memorable display was in 2019, when each student class level was given a color, and hundreds of students and faculty created 6 inch by 6 inch pieces that were hung in the gallery in a rainbow display.
“It was pretty neat,” Derrick said.
He and the other OHS art teacher Heidi Coutre, hope to create more regularity with the space. Right now, there are no set hours, with the exception of being open during the school day. Derrick said during school events, like basketball games, he will unlock the doors to let visitors wander.
In the future, the art department is planning to have two well known artists, David Stluka and Mark Hersche, display again in the gallery. Stluka, an Oregon resident, is a professional photographer for the Wisconsin Badgers and has photographed Green Bay Packers games.
Hersche, also a photographer, gained national attention a few years ago when he created the “That Tree” a picture book about the life of a Bur oak tree not far from his home.
The art teachers would like all the displaying artists to have an interactive experience with the students and the community, and hope they will give public presentations and walk visitors and students through their artistic process.
For Maitzen, it took nearly two days to hang the pieces of art on the gallery walls, but it was worth it, she said.
“To have my work on the gallery walls that I advocated for was kinda like the icing on the cake of a very good and respectable professional career,” Maitzen said.