As Dolores Maviglio made her way through the gallery, she was not only struck by the sheer quality of the art, but that all the works were created by teenagers. She was very impressed.
"They're all so very talented," said Maviglio. The exhibit, at Les Malamut Gallery at the Union Township Library, includes some of the finest pieces from the last year's Union County Teen Arts Festival.
It is the last stop for the travelling art exhibit before the process starts all over again with 2010 Teen Arts Festival, March 18 and 19 at Union County College in Cranford.
With the college on spring break, nearly 4,000 Union County middle and high school students will descend for two days of music and dance performances, art exhibitions and more than 40 workshops.
The festival is sponsored by the Union County Board of Freeholders, in coordination with the county's Office of Cultural and Heritage Affairs.
"This has always been one of the largest and well-attended events that Office of Cultural and Heritage Affairs coordinates," said Freeholder Vice-Chairman Deborah Scanlon.
"Participation by schools across the county has just soared this year and we are thrilled about that," Scanlon said. "It also marks the first year that the county vo-tech's Academy for Performing Arts will be sending students and that is also exciting."
Cranford High School graphic arts teacher Patrick Gorman is looking forward to the festival, which he attended as a student in the mid-'90s when he was a student at the high school.
"It's a good opportunity for the kids to see and get involved with other art programs," Gorman said, noting that the workshops give students a chance to experience different art mediums.
"For a student in graphics, who is on the computer a lot, they get the chance to go to a workshop with clay or painting and expand their wings a little bit," he said.
"It also gives the kids the opportunity to see what kind of work the other high schools are putting out and see where they are in comparison. It gives them a measuring stick as to where they're at. They see what other kids are trying and where they are at their skill level," Gorman said.
The critiques from professional artists are also helpful. Gorman jokes that as a teacher, his students will sometimes tune him out. But an evaluation of their work from a professional is different.
"I can tell a kid something a hundred times, but when they hear it from someone in the field, it gives it a little more validity," he said. "The kids really enjoy hearing from someone in the field. It's just a really good day and the kids really enjoy going there."
Gov. Livingston High School senior Alex Pastori is looking forward to the festival, for which she made a music video.
"You get to see what other people think about it," she said.
During her critique last year, there were a number of suggestions as to different camera angles she could have incorporated into her piece. The suggestions were really helpful and a number of them were utilized in this year's video work, she said.
Pastori's teacher, Joe Voorhees, enjoys having his students participate, something he also did when he attended Jonathan Dayton High School in Springfield.
"You get to experience what the other students are doing," he said. "It makes the students more curious and want to explore and ask, 'Why can't we do this?"
And while there are no awards involved, there is a certain amount of friendly competition. "We do try to trump each other," Voorhees said.
The festival is a major undertaking, said Barbara Fuller, administrator of the county's Office of Cultural and Heritage Affairs. The staff has two days to set up for the event because on Wednesday, professional artists will come to critique the students' art works so they are prepared to discuss the pieces when the first wave of students arrives the following day.
After the last of the students leave Friday afternoon, the art work and walls and walls of display panels must be packed up.
"By Monday, when the college reopens, it has to look like nothing ever happened," Fuller said.