Arts

Andover’s Oxbow-hemian Returns

Lucy Bidwell ’09 first mentioned the Oxbow School to me last year as we sat crafting our final art projects for Art 200. Her brief description made it clear to me that this school was no less than heaven on Earth. Now, post-Oxbow, ready to start life at Phillips again, I can say with the deepest admiration that Oxbow was even better. Not long after that art room discussion, I found myself with Jordan Felling, the Admissions Director for the Oxbow School, whose enthusiastic presentation made me even more certain that this was something I had to do. From there I began the application process, starting with the first and most daunting thing on the requirements list, the self-portrait. Well aware that this was most likely the “make-or-break” portion of the application, I wanted to be absolutely positive that my self portrait would be not only my best piece of work to date, but hopefully unlike any other piece they would review. After many hours of work and several critiques by my art teacher, Ms. Crivelli, I was finished and ready to send in my application. Some time later I received an acceptance letter. Overjoyed and enthralled, all I had to do was wait. I arrived in Napa, California months later, having just returned from a mind-blowing trip to India with a program called “Where There Be Dragons” (which I highly recommend as well) a week earlier. Ready to greet me were 42 fellow “Oxbow-hemians,” all equally as excited to be there as I was. As I would soon learn, no two students were alike; each bore his own trademark style, personality and background, but we each shared a common love for artwork and creativity. Drama was more or less unapparent, and Seniors and Juniors coexisted without a hierarchy. Getting to know each student was one of the greatest pleasures of attending Oxbow. I made some of the most genuine friendships that I hope will last a lifetime. The living conditions at Oxbow were very comfortable and campus quickly came to feel like home. I lived in a suite of five boys, with three large bedrooms and a common room that displayed our artwork on its walls. Meals were served in a beautiful historic house with a patio for eating outside on warm afternoons. Every meal was “to-die-for,” prepared with love by a wonderful crew of professional chefs who provided a constant, maternal-like comfort throughout the semester. The campus also included a beautiful garden, where students learned to plant and maintain vegetables as part of the science class. Of course, the heart of Oxbow lay in the four supreme studios lined across a concrete pad looking out over a grass lawn sloping down towards the Napa River. The studios were spacious, housing all of the supplies we could ever want, and the large glass fronts could open, allowing the warm California air to circulate as we worked. Students were encouraged to take advantage of the free supplies—several types of cameras could be signed out and the sculpture studio was equipped with power tools galore. Dance parties were occasionally held in the painting studio and weekend movies could be projected in the library above the darkroom. During the semester I was introduced to oil painting, darkroom photography and print-making, while my drawing skills also improved immensely. Art class was less about “here’s how to do a gradient…now do it a million times” but more about developing concepts and exploring media. Of course, the teachers were always there to show us a new technique to push our art further. I think that the biggest impact on my art came from being surrounded by the work of my fellow students. The humanities classes were integrated in a fashion that supplemented our artwork and creative nature. Whether we were designing sustainable homes or working in the garden, the humanities classes gave us the tools to improve our design and writing skills as well as giving us the opportunity to think critically about our world. Certainly, the most exciting part about Oxbow was the final project, when students put together all they had learned from the semester. We worked for three weeks, laboring to complete our art pieces before their display at the final show. I spent those last weeks working endlessly to create a four-minute long animation. This is something I could have never made if it weren’t for the amazing opportunity that Oxbow gave me. For those interested in applying for a coming semester, I could not recommend Oxbow enough. If you have further questions feel free to email me at jbrenner@andover.edu.