Showing Off : Works of 500 Fullerton Students Move From Refrigerator Door to Muckenthaler

It's tough to stake prime gallery space when you're a kid. Most of the time, the best exposure a young artist gets is the front of the family refrigerator where his work is wedged between the grocery list and mom's calorie chart.

But Sunday through April 2, more than 500 budding artists will be treated to an exclusive gallery showing at the stately Muckenthaler Cultural Center in Fullerton. Part of the 14th annual Florence Arnold Children's Art Festival, the exhibit features drawings, paintings, sculpture and multimedia works by students from 19 Fullerton schools, grades K-8.

Florence Arnold, 89, a longtime Fullerton resident and artist, launched the festival in 1976 as a way to instill an appreciation of the visual arts in kids.

"We need to recognize young artists early in life," said Arnold, who is still active in local art circles. "We must encourage them to pursue the arts, and one of the best ways to do that is to give them a place to show off their talents."

Open to every Fullerton schoolchild, the festival is strictly non-competitive, Arnold said, because "first, second and third (prize) is ridiculous for youngsters. They don't need that kind of competition. The fact that they participate is their reward."

Every child participating in the festival receives a certificate from the Muckenthaler.Although there are no specific prizes awarded, Arnold and fellow Muckenthaler volunteerJane Engle will select one piece as the best of show, and a photograph of the work will be featured on announcements for next year's event.

(Arnold, by the way, has been named by the Fullerton City Council as one of the city's "living treasures." Her work has been displayed at Newport Harbor Art Museum, the Muckenthaler, Laguna Art Museum and the Los Angeles Art Assn. gallery. Her personal history has been recorded in a book by the Cal State Fullerton oral history department; the biography says a collection of Arnold memorabilia was archived at the Smithsonian in a 1976 series on American artists.)

The Florence Arnold Children's Art Festival kicks off Sunday with a free afternoon of student performances, crafts and games on the Muckenthaler grounds. Open to the public, the Mexican-themed event begins at 1 p.m. with ethnic craft booths, mariachis, Mexican snacks and a no-holds-barred pinata-smashing. At 2:30 p.m., 10 student performers will present brief musical recitals on an outdoor stage. The galleries will be open throughout the festival day.

Children participating in the art exhibit were not restricted to any single theme or media. Materials they used ranged from tempera and watercolors to aluminum cans and clay, and artistic styles ran the gamut from mainstream to purely uninhibited, as in a series of wild papier-mache masks by Tai Pham, Hector Benavides, Steve Bradley, Jon Simard and He Nguyen, seventh-graders at Nicholas School. (Apparently inspired by American Indian ceremonial masks, the pieces feature day-glo colors and fierce expressions that would give just about any evil spirit the willies.)

Realism and fantasy are displayed side by side. Ladera Vista Junior High student Leo Jocson paid homage to his Nikes in his true-to-life pencil sketch, and Golden Hill School student Angela Fisk let her imagination run wild with her ink drawing of a fantastic dog/bird/fish that looks like it flew nonstop from the pages of Greek mythology.

Pop art makes the scene in a Warhol-esque soda can sculpture by Tracy Cadek, a sixth-grader at Sunset Lane School. And, as could be expected, the kindergartners seem to have the corner on free expression, as seen in bold abstracts in hot pink, azure and black by the sandbox set at Golden Hill School.

The 14th Annual Florence Arnold Children's Art Festival runs Sunday through April 2 at the Muckenthaler Cultural Arts Center, 1201 W. Malvern Ave., Fullerton. Gallery hours are 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., Tuesday through Saturday, noon to 5 p.m. on Sunday. Admission is free, but donations are accepted. For information, call (714) 738-6595.

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