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Department of Visual Arts opening reception

Student artwork shines in the Larson Gallery

Annual Department of Visual Arts exhibit

A soft glow of Larson Gallery lights illuminates a year’s worth of artistic exploration for Yakima Valley College students. For them, this year’s Department of Visual Arts show isn’t just an exhibit – it’s the culmination of countless late nights, bursts of inspiration and the nerve-wracking vulnerability of putting their creative hearts on display.

Art Instructor Kayo Nakamura knows an even deeper feeling was with them as they attended an opening reception on April 30: the electric thrill of seeing their creations transformed from classroom exercises to vibrant expressions hanging proudly in a professional art space.

“I don’t think the students realized how it would feel until they experienced walking into the gallery and actually seeing their work displayed in a public art space and hung in a professional manner,” says Nakamura, who teaches drawing courses and had several students from her classes participate in this year’s Department of Visual Arts exhibition.

The show featured 211 pieces of artwork created within the past year. YVC art faculty Chris Otten, Monika Lemmon, Rachel Dorn and Nakamura collected notable artworks throughout the 2023 spring and fall quarters and the 2024 winter quarter.

This long-time annual exhibition gives select YVC art students a real-world gallery experience and is a favorite among local art collectors, said Interim Larson Gallery Director Freya Liggett. Classes represented in the show included ceramics, painting, drawing, printmaking, photography and design.

“This season’s show has been particularly exciting because we’ve taken the opportunity to reassess the exhibition process with the sponsoring YVC faculty,” said Liggett. “In line with the gallery’s current executive staff search, we recognize even established traditions like DoVA have room for new practices and approaches benefiting the YVC student experience.”

Nineteen student participants received $2,000 in donated cash prizes, including the Best of Show Award for Julie Wake’s “Foodscape and Anthony Garvin’s “Jynx’s Mad Tea Party,” which snagged both the ASYVC’s top cash prize and the Janice Buckler Memorial Award.

The unique partnership between the Larson Gallery Guild and Yakima Valley College is one that both Nakamura and Dorn appreciate.

“I am fully aware as an instructor of the rare and extraordinary opportunity it is to have one show slot a year for student artwork,” said Nakamura. “It’s always a treat to be able to invite students to participate, and at this beginning level this type of encouragement can be nice.”

For Art Instructor Rachel Dorn, who runs YVC’s clay studio, the annual exhibit allows students to see their word come full circle.

“During classes, students see their work on the table in a group of other work and, for clay stuff, incomplete for most of the quarter,” said Dorn. “Then right at the end, the work comes out of the kiln, we have a critique (sometimes the same day) and we’re done. The work might go home, into use, or into storage, but it doesn’t necessarily get the fine art treatment it gets in the gallery.”

“This was my first experience with the DoVA student exhibition so I wasn’t sure what to expect, but the enormous crowd at the opening reception spoke for itself!” — Freya Liggett, interim director of the Larson Gallery

Ligget and others on the gallery’s guild board are looking forward to establishing additional areas for collaboration with the college and promoting a life-long love of art.

“The annual student exhibition is a model for where the Larson Gallery Guild wants to go in the future,” said Liggett. “The Guild’s current strategic plan is strongly oriented to cultivating a love of the arts with and for Yakima-area youth. I see so many opportunities for further engaging students and emerging artists in improving the gallery’s public services and the scholarly and intellectual quality of our permanent art collections.”

Featured Student Artists

Juan Gonzalez

Gonzalez is a first-year computer science student who was encouraged to take a printmaking class during New Student Orientation in the fall. “He wasn’t sure what printmaking was, but was totally game,” said Nakamura. “Juan is a very meticulous and highly intelligent student. He was so careful with his marks and worked very hard on each matrix. Printmaking can leave a lot up to chance, but he never gave up or gave in or became less meticulous. He kept showing up and kept up his same practice and made beautiful prints every single time.”

Pointing to a Star by Jose Gonzalez
Pointing to a Star by Jose Gonzalez
Untitled by Ivan Rojas
Untitled by Ivan Rojas

Ivan Rojas

Winner of the Jane Stockwell Award for Excellence in Drawing, Ivan Rojas’ still life is a large-scale modified contour drawing. “Ivan has really adopted contour drawing and made it his own,” said Nakamura. “He went on to easing into the other techniques and learned how to draw easily and did very well in class. I think the best part of this drawing was watching him interact with all the people coming into the studio while he was working on it and giving him advice about what he should and shouldn’t be doing.” According to Nakamura, Rojas was able to navigate the feedback, ultimately trusting his skill and incorporating what he wanted into his pieces.

Noemi Ramirez

Winner of the Legacy Award for her painting, “Link!” “Noemi is a very special and talented student. She puts in a considerable amount of time into her work outside of class, and that is the way she improves and gets so good and learns,” said Nakamura. “Another aspect that is special about her is that she is curious. She enjoys trying new things and is not afraid to take risks. There is a deep, deep well in her of ideas and content that she has only begun to tap into.”

A Bowl of Ramen by Noemi Ramirez
A Bowl of Ramen by Noemi Ramirez
Oranges by Isabelle Culbertson
Oranges by Isabelle Culbertson

Isabelle Culbertson

Culbertson’s submission was a white bowl featuring a decoration of orange slices on the outside. “I particularly like Belle’s technique here,” said Dorn. “She was already painting on the oranges when she asked if it would work. I said I wasn’t sure, but she should try. She did and it worked great! I love when students push against the edges of what I’ve shown them and discover new techniques or approaches.”

Dean Yockey

One of my favorite sets of work from the show is called ‘Modular Weirdos’ by Dean Yockey,” said Dorn. Yockey’s artwork consists of three figures which have removable heads and clothing (a cape and armor) and can swap out their heads with each other’s. “Dean’s another student who pushes against the edges of the assignment to see what will work.”

Modular Weirdos by Dean Yockey
Modular Weirdos by Dean Yockey, winner of the Clay Sale Award

“Larson Gallery has a professional director and professional gallery assistant who know how to install and light a show, meaning the show itself is professional and well organized — and it shows.” — Rachel Dorn, arts and humanities instructor

For instructors and students it’s clear that the reach of the Larson Gallery spreads much farther than just campus.

“The Larson Gallery is not just meaningful to YVC but it’s central to the city of Yakima,” said Nakamura. “Where most university or college art galleries are stuck inside and only relevant to the bubble of the school the Larson Gallery is not that — it reaches out to the community, it belongs to the community and does not function in a merely insular way.”

With over 20 years of museum and gallery experience, Liggett pointed out that the Larson Gallery maintains many positive aspects of the original community spirit that established the program in 1949. “You don’t often see local ownership survive as an organization professionalizes. I have high hopes the Guild will dig into a transformational leadership approach and continue to be an exception.”

YVC’s art program fosters an awareness of the making of art as well as the interpretation and development of art across cultures and time, and the relevance of art to daily experience. The partnership between the college and the gallery provides an avenue for college faculty and students to showcase their artwork in a professional gallery each year. Visit the Larson Gallery website for more information on the partnership with the college.

Story by Stefanie Menard, AA-DTA ’05, communications consultant. Photos by Dustin Wunderlich, director of community relations and Matt Barton, graphic designer/multimedia content producer.